A BOOK OF NURSERY LOGIC
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
"A court as of angels,
A public not to be bribed.
Not to be entreated,
Not to be overawed."
I am indebted to the Editors of Scribner's Magazine, the Cosmopolitan,
and Babyhood, for permission to reprint the three essays which have
appeared in their pages. The others are published for the first time.
It may be well to ward off the full seriousness of my title "Nursery
Logic" by saying that a certain informality in all of these papers
arises from the fact that they were originally talks given before
members of societies interested in the training of children.
Three of them—"Children's Stories," "How Shall we Govern our
Children," and "The Magic of 'Together'"—have been written for this
book by my sister, Miss Nora Smith.
NEW YORK, August, 1892.
THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
WHAT SHALL CHILDREN READ?
CHILDREN'S STORIES. Nora A. Smith
THE RELATION OF THE KINDERGARTEN TO SOCIAL REFORM
HOW SHALL WE GOVERN OUR CHILDREN? Nora A. Smith
THE MAGIC OF "TOGETHER." Nora A. Smith.
THE RELATION OF THE KINDERGARTEN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL
OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN
THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
The subject of Children's Rights does not provoke much sentimentalism
in this country, where, as somebody says, the present problem of the
children is the painless extinction of their elders. I interviewed
the man who washes my windows, the other morning, with the purpose of
getting at the level of his mind in the matter.
"Dennis," I said, as he was polishing the glass, "I am writing an
article on the 'Rights of Children.' What do you think about it?"
Dennis carried his forefinger to his head in search of an idea, for he
is not accustomed to having his intelligence so violently assaulted,
and after a moment's puzzled thought he said, "What do I think about
it, mum? Why, I think we'd ought to give 'em to 'em. But Lor', mum,
if we don't, they take 'em, so what's the odds?" And as he left the
room I thought he looked pained that I should spin words and squander
ink on such a topic.
The French dressmaker was my next victim. As she fitted the collar of
an effete civilization on my nineteenth century neck, I put the same
question I had given to Dennis.
"The rights of the child, madame?" she asked, her scissors poised in
"Yes, the rights of the child."
"Is it of the American child, madame?"
"Yes," said I nervously, "of the American child."
"Mon Dieu! he has them!"
This may well lead us to consider rights as opposed to privileges. A
multitude of privileges, or rather indulgences, can exist with a total
disregard of the child's rights. You remember the man who said he
could do without necessities if you would give him luxuries enough.
The child might say, "I will forego all my privileges, if you will
only give me my rights: a little less sentiment, please,—more
justice!" There are women who live in perfect puddles of maternal
love, who yet seem incapable of justice; generous to a fault, perhaps,
but seldom just.
Who owns the child? If the parent owns him,—mind, body, and soul,
we must adopt one line of argument; if, as a human being, he owns
himself, we must adopt another. In my thought the parent is simply a
divinely appointed guardian, who acts for his child until he attains
what we call the age of discretion,—that highly uncertain period
which arrives very late in life with some persons, and not at all with
The rights of the parent being almost unlimited, it is a very delicate
matter to decide just when and where they infringe upon the rights
of the child. There is no standard; the child is the creature of
The mother can clothe him in Jaeger wool from head to foot, or keep
him in low neck, short sleeves and low stockings, because she thinks
it pretty; she can feed him exclusively on raw beef, or on vegetables,
or on cereals; she can give him milk to drink, or let him sip his
father's beer and wine; put him to bed at sundown, or keep him up till
midnight; teach him the catechism and the thirty-nine articles, or
tell him there is no God; she can cram him with facts before he has
any appetite or power of assimilation, or she can make a fool of him.
She can dose him with old-school remedies, with new-school remedies,
or she can let him die without remedies because she doesn't believe
in the reality of disease. She is quite willing to legislate for
his stomach, his mind, his soul, her teachableness, it goes without
saying, being generally in inverse proportion to her knowledge; for
the arrogance of science is humility compared with the pride of
In these matters the child has no rights. The only safeguard is the
fact that if parents are absolutely brutal, society steps in, removes
the untrustworthy guardian, and appoints another. But society does
nothing, can do nothing, with the parent who injures the child's soul,
breaks his will, makes him grow up a liar or a coward, or murders
his faith. It is not very long since we decided that when a parent
brutally abused his child, it could be taken from him and made the
ward of the state; the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children is of later date than the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals. At a distance of a century and a half we can
hardly estimate how powerful a blow Rousseau struck for the rights of
the child in his educational romance, "Emile." It was a sort of gospel
in its day. Rousseau once arrested and exiled, his book burned by the
executioner (a few years before he would have been burned with it),
his ideas naturally became a craze. Many of the reforms for which he
passionately pleaded are so much a part of our modern thought that we
do not realize the fact that in those days of routine, pedantry and
slavish worship of authority, they were the daring dreams of an
enthusiast, the seeming impossible prophecy of a new era. Aristocratic
mothers were converts to his theories, and began nursing their
children as he commanded them. Great lords began to learn handicrafts;
physical exercise came into vogue; everything that Emile did, other
people wanted to do.
With all Rousseau's vagaries, oddities, misconceptions, posings, he
rescued the individuality of the child and made a tremendous plea for
a more natural, a more human education. He succeeded in making people
listen where Rabelais and Montaigne had failed; and he inspired other
teachers, notably Pestalozzi and Froebel, who knit up his ragged seams
of theory, and translated his dreams into possibilities.
Rousseau vindicated to man the right of "Being." Pestalozzi said
"Grow!" Froebel, the greatest of the three, cried "Live! you give
bread to men, but I give men to themselves!"
The parent whose sole answer to criticism or remonstrance is "I have
a right to do what I like with my own child!" is the only impossible
parent. His moral integument is too thick to be pierced with any shaft
however keen. To him we can only say as Jacques did to Orlando, "God
be with you; let's meet as little as we can."
But most of us dare not take this ground. We may not philosophize or
formulate, we may not live up to our theories, but we feel in greater
or less degree the responsibility of calling a human being hither, and
the necessity of guarding and guiding, in one way or another, that
which owes its being to us.
We should all agree, if put to the vote, that a child has a right to
be well born. That was a trenchant speech of Henry Ward Beecher's on
the subject of being "born again;" that if he could be born right the
first time he'd take his chances on the second. "Hereditary rank,"
says Washington Irving, "may be a snare and a delusion, but hereditary
virtue is a patent of innate nobility which far outshines the blazonry
Over the unborn our power is almost that of God, and our
responsibility, like His toward us; as we acquit ourselves toward
them, so let Him deal with us.
Why should we be astonished at the warped, cold, unhappy, suspicious
natures we see about us, when we reflect upon the number of
unwished-for, unwelcomed children in the world;—children who at
best were never loved until they were seen and known, and were often
grudged their being from the moment they began to be. I wonder if
sometimes a starved, crippled, agonized human body and soul does not
cry out, "Why, O man, O woman—why, being what I am, have you suffered
me to be?"
Physiologists and psychologists agree that the influences affecting
the child begin before birth. At what hour they begin, how far they
can be controlled, how far directed and modified, modern science is
not assured; but I imagine those months of preparation were given for
other reasons than that the cradle and the basket and the wardrobe
might be ready;—those long months of supreme patience, when the
life-germ is growing from unconscious to conscious being, and when a
host of mysterious influences and impulses are being carried silently
from mother to child. And if "beauty born of murmuring sound shall
pass into" its "face," how much more subtly shall the grave strength
of peace, the sunshine of hope and sweet content, thrill the delicate
chords of being, and warm the tender seedling into richer life.
Mrs. Stoddard speaks of that sacred passion, maternal love, that "like
an orange-tree, buds and blossoms and bears at once." When a true
woman puts her finger for the first time into the tiny hand of
her baby, and feels that helpless clutch which tightens her very
heart-strings, she is born again with the new-born child.
A mother has a sacred claim on the world; even if that claim rest
solely on the fact of her motherhood, and not, alas, on any other. Her
life may be a cipher, but when the child comes, God writes a figure
before it, and gives it value.
Once the child is born, one of his inalienable rights, which we too
often deny him, is the right to his childhood.
If we could only keep from untwisting the morning-glory, only be
willing to let the sunshine do it! Dickens said real children went out
with powder and top-boots; and yet the children of Dickens's time were
simple buds compared with the full-blown miracles of conventionality
and erudition we raise nowadays.
There is no substitute for a genuine, free, serene, healthy,
bread-and-butter childhood. A fine manhood or womanhood can be built
on no other foundation; and yet our American homes are so often filled
with hurry and worry, our manner of living is so keyed to concert
pitch, our plan of existence so complicated, that we drag the babies
along in our wake, and force them to our artificial standards,
forgetting that "sweet flowers are slow, and weeds make haste."
If we must, or fancy that we must, lead this false, too feverish life,
let us at least spare them! By keeping them forever on tiptoe we are
in danger of producing an army of conventional little prigs, who know
much more than they should about matters which are profitless even to
In the matter of clothing, we sacrifice children continually to the
"Moloch of maternal vanity," as if the demon of dress did not demand
our attention, sap our energy, and thwart our activities soon enough
And the right kind of children, before they are spoiled by fine
feathers, do detest being "dressed up" beyond a certain point.
A tiny maid of my acquaintance has an elaborate Parisian gown, which
is fastened on the side from top to bottom in some mysterious fashion,
by a multitude of tiny buttons and cords. It fits the dear little
mouse like a glove, and terminates in a collar which is an instrument
of torture to a person whose patience has not been developed from year
to year by similar trials. The getting of it on is anguish, and as to
the getting of it off, I heard her moan to her nurse the other night,
as she wriggled her curly head through the too-small exit, "Oh I only
God knows how I hate gettin' peeled out o' this dress!"
The spectacle of a small boy whom I meet sometimes in the horse-cars,
under the wing of his predestinate idiot of a mother, wrings my very
soul. Silk hat, ruffled shirt, silver-buckled shoes, kid gloves,
cane, velvet suit, with one two-inch pocket which is an insult to his
sex,—how I pity the pathetic little caricature! Not a spot has he to
locate a top, or a marble, or a nail, or a string, or a knife, or a
cooky, or a nut; but as a bloodless substitute for these necessities
of existence, he has a toy watch (that will not go) and an embroidered
handkerchief with cologne on it.
As to keeping children too clean for any mortal use, I suppose nothing
is more disastrous. The divine right to be gloriously dirty a large
portion of the time, when dirt is a necessary consequence of direct,
useful, friendly contact with all sorts of interesting, helpful
things, is too clear to be denied.
The children who have to think of their clothes before playing with
the dogs, digging in the sand, helping the stableman, working in the
shed, building a bridge, or weeding the garden, never get half their
legitimate enjoyment out of life. And unhappy fate, do not many of us
have to bring up children without a vestige of a dog, or a sand heap,
or a stable, or a shed, or a brook, or a garden! Conceive, if you can,
a more difficult problem than giving a child his rights in a city
flat. You may say that neither do we get ours: but bad as we are,
we are always good enough to wish for our children the joys we miss
Thrice happy is the country child, or the one who can spend a part of
his young life among living things, near to Nature's heart How blessed
is the little toddling thing who can lie flat in the sunshine and
drink in the beauty of the "green things growing," who can live among
the other little animals, his brothers and sisters in feathers and
fur; who can put his hand in that of dear mother Nature, and learn his
first baby lessons without any meddlesome middleman; who is cradled in
sweet sounds "from early morn to dewy eve," lulled to his morning nap
by hum of crickets and bees, and to his night's slumber by the sighing
of the wind, the plash of waves, or the ripple of a river. He is a
part of the "shining web of creation," learning to spell out the
universe letter by letter as he grows sweetly, serenely, into a
knowledge of its laws.
I have a good deal of sympathy for the little people during their
first eight or ten years, when they are just beginning to learn life's
lessons, and when the laws which govern them must often seem so
strange and unjust. It is not an occasion for a big burning sympathy,
perhaps, but for a tender little one, with a half smile in it, as we
think of what we were, and "what in young clothes we hoped to be, and
of how many things have come across;" for childhood is an eternal
promise which no man ever keeps.
The child has a right to a place of his own, to things of his own, to
surroundings which have some relation to his size, his desires, and
How should we like to live, half the time, in a place where the piano
was twelve feet tall, the door knobs at an impossible height, and the
mantel shelf in the sky; where every mortal thing was out of reach
except a collection of highly interesting objects on dressing-tables
and bureaus, guarded, however, by giants and giantesses, three times
as large and powerful as ourselves, forever saying, "mustn't touch;"
and if we did touch we should be spanked, and have no other method of
revenge save to spank back symbolically on the inoffensive persons of
Things in general are so disproportionate to the child's stature, so
far from his organs of prehension, so much above his horizontal line
of vision, so much ampler than his immediate surroundings, that there
is, between him and all these big things, a gap to be filled only by
a microcosm of playthings which give him his first object-lessons. In
proof of which let him see a lady richly dressed, he hardly notices
her; let him see a doll in similar attire, he will be ravished with
ecstasy. As if to show that it was the disproportion of the sizes
which unfitted him to notice the lady, the larger he grows the bigger
he wants his toys, till, when his wish reaches to life-sizes, good-by
to the trumpery, and onward with realities.
[Footnote 1: E. Seguin.]
My little nephew was prowling about my sitting-room during the absence
of his nurse. I was busy writing, and when he took up a delicate pearl
opera-glass, I stopped his investigations with the time-honored, "No,
no, dear, that's for grown-up people."
"Hasn't it got any little-boy end?" he asked wistfully.
That "little-boy end" to things is sometimes just what we fail to
give, even when we think we are straining every nerve to surround the
child with pleasures. For children really want to do the very same
things that we want to do, and yet have constantly to be thwarted for
their own good. They would like to share all our pleasures; keep the
same hours, eat the same food; but they are met on every side with the
seemingly impertinent piece of dogmatism, "It isn't good for little
boys," or "It isn't nice for little girls."
Robert Louis Stevenson shows, in his "Child's Garden of Verses," that
he is one of the very few people who remember and appreciate this
phase of childhood. Could anything be more deliciously real than these
"In winter I get up at night,
And dress by yellow candle light:
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day;
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
And hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me on the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
That when the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
I have to go to bed by day?"
Mr. Hopkinson Smith has written a witty little monograph on this
relation of parents and children. I am glad to say, too, that it is
addressed to fathers,—that "left wing" of the family guard, which
generally manages to retreat during any active engagement, leaving the
command to the inferior officer. This "left wing" is imposing on all
full-dress parades, but when there is any fighting to be done it
retires rapidly to the rear, and only wheels into line when the smoke
of the conflict has passed out of the atmosphere.
"Open your heart and your arms wide for your daughters," he says,
"and keep them wide open; don't leave all that to their mothers. An
intimacy will grow with the years which will fit them for another
man's arms and heart when they exchange yours for his. Make a chum of
your boy,—hail-fellow-well-met, a comrade. Get down to the level of
his boyhood, and bring him gradually up to the level of your manhood.
Don't look at him from the second story window of your fatherly
superiority and example. Go into the front yard and play ball with
him. When he gets into scrapes, don't thrash him as your father did
you. Put your arm around his neck, and say you know it is pretty bad,
but that he can count on you to help him out, and that you will, every
single time, and that if he had let you know earlier, it would have
been all the easier."
Again, the child has a right to more justice in his discipline than we
are generally wise and patient enough to give him. He is by and by to
come in contact with a world where cause and effect follow each other
inexorably. He has a right to be taught, and to be governed by the
laws under which he must afterwards live; but in too many cases
parents interfere so mischievously and unnecessarily between causes
and effects that the child's mind does not, cannot, perceive the logic
of things as it should. We might write a pathetic remonstrance against
the Decline and Fall of Domestic Authority. There is food for thought,
and perhaps for fear, in the subject; but the facts are obvious, and
their inevitableness must strike any thoughtful observer of the times.
"The old educational regime was akin to the social systems with
which it was contemporaneous; and similarly, in the reverse of these
characteristics, our modern modes of culture correspond to our more
liberal religious and political institutions."
It is the age of independent criticism. The child problem is merely
one phase of the universal problem that confronts society. It seems
likely that the rod of reason will have to replace the rod of birch.
Parental authority never used to be called into question; neither was
the catechism, nor the Bible, nor the minister. How should parents
hope to escape the universal interrogation point leveled at everything
else? In these days of free speech it is hopeless to suppose that even
infants can be muzzled. We revel in our republican virtues; let us
accept the vices of those virtues as philosophically as possible.
A lady has been advertising in a New York paper for a German governess
"to mind a little girl three years old." The lady's English is
doubtless defective, but the fate of the governess is thereby
indicated with much greater candor than is usual.
The mother who is most apt to infringe on the rights of her child (of
course with the best intentions) is the "firm" person, afflicted with
the "lust of dominion." There is no elasticity in her firmness to
prevent it from degenerating into obstinacy. It is not the firmness of
the tree that bends without breaking, but the firmness of a certain
long-eared animal whose force of character has impressed itself on the
common mind and become proverbial.
Jean Paul says if "Pas trop gouverner" is the best rule in politics,
it is equally true of discipline.
But if the child is unhappy who has none of his rights respected,
equally wretched is the little despot who has more than his own
rights, who has never been taught to respect the rights of others, and
whose only conception of the universe is that of an absolute monarchy
in which he is sole ruler.
"Children rarely love those who spoil them, and never trust them.
Their keen young sense detects the false note in the character and
draws its own conclusions, which are generally very just."
The very best theoretical statement of a wise disciplinary method that
I know is Herbert Spencer's. "Let the history of your domestic rule
typify, in little, the history of our political rule; at the outset,
autocratic control, where control is really needful; by and by an
incipient constitutionalism, in which the liberty of the subject gains
some express recognition; successive extensions of this liberty of the
subject; gradually ending in parental abdication."
We must not expect children to be too good; not any better than we
ourselves, for example; no, nor even as good. Beware of hothouse
virtue. "Already most people recognize the detrimental results of
intellectual precocity; but there remains to be recognized the truth
that there is a moral precocity which is also detrimental. Our higher
moral faculties, like our higher intellectual ones, are comparatively
complex. By consequence, they are both comparatively late in their
evolution. And with the one as with the other, a very early activity
produced by stimulation will be at the expense of the future
In these matters the child has a right to expect examples. He lives in
the senses; he can only learn through object lessons, can only
pass from the concrete example of goodness to a vision of abstract
"O'er wayward childhood wouldst thou hold firm rule.
And sun thee in the light of happy faces?
Love, Hope and Patience, these must be thy graces,
And in thine own heart let them first keep school."
Yes, "in thine own heart let them first keep school!" I cannot see why
Max O'Rell should have exclaimed with such unction that if he were to
be born over again he would choose to be an American woman. He has
never tried being one. He does not realize that she not only has in
hand the emancipation of the American woman, but the reformation of
the American man and the education of the American child. If that
triangular mission in life does not keep her out of mischief and make
her the angel of the twentieth century, she is a hopeless case.
Spencer says, "It is a truth yet remaining to be recognized that the
last stage in the mental development of each man and woman is to be
reached only through the proper discharge of the parental duties. And
when this truth is recognized, it will be seen how admirable is the
ordination in virtue of which human beings are led by their strongest
affections to subject themselves to a discipline which they would else
Women have been fighting many battles for the higher education these
last few years; and they have nearly gained the day. When at last
complete victory shall perch upon their banners, let them make one
more struggle, and that for the highest education, which shall include
a specific training for parenthood, a subject thus far quite omitted
from the curriculum.
The mistaken idea that instinct is a sufficient guide in so delicate
and sacred and vital a matter, the comfortable superstition that
babies bring their own directions with them,—these fictions have
existed long enough. If a girl asks me why, since the function of
parenthood is so uncertain, she should make the sacrifices necessary
to such training, sacrifices entailed by this highest education of
body, mind, and spirit, I can only say that it is better to be ready,
even if one is not called for, than to be called for and found
"The plays of the age are the heart-leaves of the whole future life,
for the whole man is visible in them in his finest capacities and his
Mr. W.W. Newell, in his admirable book on "Children's Games," traces
to their proper source all the familiar plays which in one form or
another have been handed down from generation to generation, and are
still played wherever and whenever children come together in any
numbers. The result of his sympathetic and scholarly investigations
is most interesting to the student of childhood, and as valuable
philologically as historically. In speaking of the old rounds and
rhymed formulas which have preserved their vitality under the effacing
hand of Time, he says,—
"It will be obvious that many of these well-known game-rhymes were not
composed by children. They were formerly played, as in many countries
they are still played, by young persons of marriageable age, or even
by mature men and women…. The truth is, that in past centuries all
the world, judged by our present standard, seems to have been a little
childish. The maids of honor of Queen Elizabeth's day, if we may
credit the poets, were devoted to the game of tag, with which even
Diana and her nymphs were supposed to amuse themselves….
"We need not, however, go to remote times or lands for illustration
which is supplied by New England country towns of a generation ago.
Dancing, under that name, was little practiced; the amusement of young
people at their gatherings was "playing games." These games generally
resulted in forfeits, to be redeemed by kissing, in every possible
variety of position and method. Many of these games were rounds; but
as they were not called dances, and as man-kind pays more attention to
words than things, the religious conscience of the community, which
objected to dancing, took no alarm…. Such were the pleasures of
young men and women from sixteen to twenty-five years of age. Nor were
the participants mere rustics; many of them could boast as good blood,
as careful breeding, and as much intelligence, as any in the land.
Neither was the morality or sensitiveness of the young women of that
day in any respect inferior to what it is at present.
"Now that our country towns are become mere outlying suburbs of
cities, these remarks may be read with a smile at the rude simplicity
of old-fashioned American life. But the laugh should be directed, not
at our own country, but at the bygone age. It must be remembered that
in mediaeval Europe, and in England till the end of the seventeenth
century, a kiss was the usual salutation of a lady to a gentleman whom
she wished to honor…. The Portuguese ladies who came to England with
the Infanta in 1662 were not used to the custom; but, as Pepys says,
in ten days they had 'learnt to kiss and look freely up and down.'
Kissing in games was, therefore, a matter of course, in all ranks….
"In respectable and cultivated French society, at the time of which we
speak, the amusements, not merely of young people but of their elders
as well, were every whit as crude.
"Madame Celnart, a recognized authority on etiquette, compiled in 1830
a very curious complete manual of society games recommending them as
recreation for business men…. 'Their varying movement,' she
says, 'their diversity, the gracious and gay ideas which these games
inspire, the decorous caresses which they permit, all this combines
to give real amusement. These caresses can alarm neither modesty
nor prudence, since a kiss in honor given and taken before numerous
witnesses is often an act of propriety.'"
The old ballads and nursery rhymes doubtless had much of innocence and
freshness in them, but they only come to us nowadays tainted by the
odors of city streets. The pleasure and poetry of the original essence
are gone, and vulgarity reigns triumphant. If you listen to the words
of the games which children play in school yards, on sidewalks, and in
the streets on pleasant evenings, you will find that most of them,
to say the least, border closely on vulgarity; that they are utterly
unsuitable to childhood, notwithstanding that they are played with
great glee; that they are, in fine, common, rude, silly, and boorish.
One can never watch a circle of children going through the vulgar
inanities of "Jenny O'Jones," "Say, daughter, will you get up?" "Green
Gravel," or "Here come two ducks a-roving," without unspeakable
shrinking and moral disgust. These plays are dying out; let them die,
for there is a hint of happier things abroad in the air.
The wisest mind of wise antiquity told the riddle of the Sphinx, if
having ears to hear we would hear. "Our youth should be educated in a
stricter rule from the first, for if education becomes lawless and
the youths themselves become lawless, they can never grow up into
well-conducted or meritorious citizens; and the education must begin
with their plays."
We talk a great deal about the strength of early impressions. I wonder
if we mean all we say; we do not live up to it, at all events. "In
childish play deep meaning lies." "The hand that rocks the cradle is
the hand that rules the world." "Give me the first six years of a
child's life, and I care not who has the rest." "The child of six
years has learned already far more than a student learns in his entire
university course." "The first six years are as full of advancement as
the six days of creation," and so on. If we did believe these things
fully, we should begin education with conscious intelligence at the
cradle, if not earlier. The great German dramatic critic, Schlegel,
once sneered at the brothers Jacob and William Grimm, for what he
styled their "meditation on the insignificant." These two brothers,
says a wiser student, an historian of German literature, were animated
by a "pathetic optimism, and possessed that sober imagination which
delights in small things and narrow interests, lingering over them
with strong affection." They explored villages and hamlets for obscure
legends and folk tales, for nursery songs, even; and bringing to bear
on such things at once a human affection and a wise scholarship, their
meditation on the insignificant became the basis of their scientific
greatness and the source of their popularity. Every child has read
some of Grimm's household tales, "The Frog Prince," "Hans in Luck,"
or the "Two Brothers;" but comparatively few people realize, perhaps,
that this collection of stories is the foundation of the modern
science of folk-lore, and a by-play in researches of philology and
history which place the name of Grimm among the benefactors of our
race. I refer to these brothers because they expressed one of the
leading theories of the new education.
"My principle," said Jacob Grimm, "has been to undervalue nothing,
but to utilize the small for the illustration of the great." When
Friedrich Froebel, the founder of the kindergarten, in the course of
his researches began to watch the plays of children and to study their
unconscious actions, his "meditation on the insignificant" became
the basis of scientific greatness, and of an influence still in its
infancy, but destined, perhaps, to revolutionize the whole educational
method of society.
It was while he was looking on with delight at the plays of little
children, their happy, busy plans and make-believes, their intense
interest in outward nature, and in putting things together or taking
them apart, that Froebel said to himself: "What if we could give the
child that which is called education through his voluntary activities,
and have him always as eager as he is at play?"
How well I remember, years ago, the first time I ever joined in a
kindergarten game. I was beckoned to the charming circle, and not only
one, but a dozen openings were made for me, and immediately, though I
was a stranger, a little hand on either side was put into mine, with
such friendly, trusting pressure that I felt quite at home. Then we
began to sing of the spring-time, and I found myself a green tree
waving its branches in the wind. I was frightened and self-conscious,
but I did it, and nobody seemed to notice me; then I was a flower
opening its petals in the sunshine, and presently, a swallow gathering
straws for nest-building; then, carried away by the spirit of the
kindergartner and her children, I fluttered my clumsy apologies for
wings, and forgetting self, flew about with all the others, as happy
as a bird. Soon I found that I, the stranger, had been chosen for the
"mother swallow." It was to me, the girl of eighteen, like mounting a
throne and being crowned. Four cunning curly heads cuddled under my
wings for protection and slumber, and I saw that I was expected to
stoop and brood them, which I did, with a feeling of tenderness and
responsibility that I had never experienced in my life before. Then,
when I followed my baby swallows back to their seats, I saw that the
play had broken down every barrier between us, and that they clustered
about me as confidingly as if we were old friends. I think I never
before felt my own limitations so keenly, or desired so strongly to be
fully worthy of a child's trust and love.
Kindergarten play takes the children where they love to be, into
the world of "make-believe." In this lovely world the children are
blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelwrights; birds, bees, butterflies;
trees, flowers, sunbeams, rainbows; frogs, lambs, ponies,—anything
they like. The play is so characteristic, so poetic, so profoundly
touching in its simplicity and purity, so full of meaning, that it
would inspire us with admiration and respect were it the only salient
point of Froebel's educational idea. It endeavors to express the same
idea in poetic words, harmonious melody and fitting motion, appealing
thus to the thought, feeling, and activity of the child.
Physical impressions are at the beginning of life the only possible
medium for awakening the child's sensibility. These impressions should
therefore be regulated as systematically as possible, and not left to
Froebel supplies the means for bringing about the result in a
simple system of symbolic songs and games, appealing to the child's
activities and sensibilities. These he argues, ought to contain the
germ of all later instruction and thought; for physical and sensuous
perceptions are the points of departure of all knowledge.
When the child imitates, he begins to understand. Let him imitate the
airy flight of the bird, and he enters partially into bird life. Let
the little girl personate the hen with her feathery brood of chickens,
and her own maternal instinct is quickened, as she guards and guides
the wayward motion of the little flock. Let the child play the
carpenter, the wheelwright, the wood-sawyer, the farmer, and his
intelligence is immediately awakened; he will see the force, the
meaning, the power, and the need of labor. In short, let him mirror in
his play all the different aspects of universal life, and his thought
will begin to grasp their significance.
Thus kindergarten play may be defined as a "systematized sequence of
experiences through which the child grows into self-knowledge,
clear observation, and conscious perception of the whole circle of
relationships," and the symbols of his play become at length the truth
itself, bound fast and deep in heart knowledge, which is deeper and
rarer than head knowledge, after all.
To the class occupied exclusively with material things, this phase of
Froebel's idea may perhaps seem mystical. There is nothing mystical
to children, however; all is real, for their visions have not been
"Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen, I now can see no more."
As soon as the child begins to be conscious of his own activities and
his power of regulating them, he desires to imitate the actions of his
Nothing so delights the little girl as to play at housekeeping in her
tiny mansion, sacred to the use of dolls. See her whimsical attention
to dust and dirt, her tremendous wisdom in dispensing the work and
ordering the duties of the household, her careful attention to the
morals and manners of her rag-babies.
The boy, too, tries to share in the life of a man, to play at his
father's work, to be a miniature carpenter, salesman, or what not. He
rides his father's cane and calls it a horse, in the same way that
the little girl wraps a shawl about a towel, and showers upon it the
tenderest tokens of maternal affection. All these examples go to show
that every conscious intellectual phase of the mind has a previous
phase in which it was unconscious or merely symbolic.
To get at the spirit and inspiration of symbolic representation in
song and game, it is necessary first of all to study Froebel's "Mutter
und Kose-Lieder," perhaps the most strikingly original, instructive,
serviceable book in the whole history of the practice of education.
The significant remark quoted in Froebel's "Reminiscences" is this:
"He who understands what I mean by these songs knows my inmost
secret." You will find people who say the music in the book is poor,
which is largely true, and that the versification is weak, which is
often, not always, true, and is sometimes to be attributed to faulty
translation; but the idea, the spirit, the continuity of the plan, are
matchless, and critics who call it trifling or silly are those who
have not the seeing eye nor the understanding heart. Froebel's wife
said of it,—
"A superficial mind does not grasp it,
A gentle mind does not hate it,
A coarse mind makes fun of it,
A thoughtful mind alone tries to get at it."
"Froebel considers it his duty to picture the home as it ought to
be, not by writing a book of theories and of rules which are easily
forgotten, but by accompanying a mother in her daily rounds through
house, garden, and field, and by following her to workshop, market,
and church. He does not represent a woman of fashion, but prefers one
of humbler station, whom he clothes in the old German housewife style.
It may be a small sphere she occupies, but there she is the centre,
and she completely fills her place. She rejoices in the dignity of
her position as educator of a human being whom she has to bring into
harmony with God, nature, and man. She thinks nothing too trifling
that concerns her child. She watches, clothes, feeds, and trains it in
good habits, and when her darling is asleep, her prayers finish the
day. She may not have read much about education, but her sympathy
with the child suggests means of doing her duty. Love has made her
inventive; she discovers means of amusement, for play; she talks and
sings, sometimes in poetry and sometimes in prose. From mothers in his
circle of relations and friends, Froebel has learned what a mother can
do, and although he had no children of his own, his heart vibrated
instinctively with the feelings of a mother's joy, hope, and fear. He
did not care about the scorn of others, when he felt he must speak
with an almost womanly heart to a mother. His own loss of a mother's
tender care made him the more appreciate the importance of a mother's
love in early infancy. The mother in his book makes use of all the
impressions, influences, and agencies with which the child comes in
contact: she protects from evil; she stimulates for good; she places
the child in direct communication with nature, because she herself
admires its beauties. She has a right feeling towards her neighbors,
and to all those on whom she depends. A movement of arms and feet
teaches her that the child feels its strength and wants to use it. She
helps, she lifts, she teaches; and while playing with her baby's hands
and feet she is never at a loss for a song or story.
[Footnote 1: Eleonore Heerwart.]
"The mother also knows that it is necessary to train the senses,
because they are the active organs which convey food to the intellect.
The ear must hear language, music, the gentle accents and warning
voices of father and mother. It must distinguish the sounds of the
wind, of the water, and of pet animals.
"The eyesight is directed to objects far and near, as the pigeons
flying, the hare running, the light flickering on the wall, the calm
beauty of the moon, and the twinkling stars in the dark blue sky."
Of the effect of Froebel's symbolic songs and games, with
melodious music and appropriate gesture, kindergartners all speak
enthusiastically. They know that—
First: The words suggest thought to the child.
Second: The thought suggests gesture.
Third: The gesture aids in producing the proper feeling.
We all believe thoroughly in the influence of mind on body, the inward
working outward, but we are not as ready to see the influence of body
on mind. Yet if mind or soul acts upon the body, the external gesture
and attitude just as truly react upon the inward feeling. "The soul
speaks through the body, and the body in return gives command to the
soul." All attitudes mean something, and they all influence the state
Fourth: The melody begets spiritual impressions.
Fifth: The gestures, feeling, and melody unite in giving a sweet and
gentle intercourse, in developing love for labor, home, country,
associates, and dumb animals, and in unconsciously directing the
Learning to sing well is the best possible means of learning to speak
well, and the exquisite precision which music gives to kindergarten
play destroys all rudeness, and does not in the least rob it of its
fun or merriment.
"We cannot tell how early the pleasing sense of musical cadence
affects a child. In some children it is blended with the earliest,
haziest recollection of life at all, as though they had been literally
'cradled in sweet song;' and we may be sure that the hearing of
musical sounds and singing in association with others are for the
child, as for the adult, powerful influences in awakening sympathetic
emotion, and pleasure in associated action."
Who can see the kindergarten games, led by a teacher who has grown
into their spirit, and ever forget the joy of the spectacle? It brings
tears to the eyes of any woman who has ever been called mother,
or ever hopes to be; and I have seen more than one man retire
surreptitiously to wipe away his tears. Is it "that touch of nature
which makes the whole world kin"? Is it the perfect self-forgetfulness
of the children? Is it a touch of self-pity that the radiant visions
of our childhood days have been dispelled, and the years have brought
the "inevitable yoke"? Or is it the touching sight of so much
happiness contrasted with what we know the home life to be?
Sydney Smith says: "If you make children happy now, you will make them
happy twenty years hence by the memory of it;" and we know that virtue
kindles at the touch of this joy. "Selfishness, rudeness, and similar
weedy growths of school-life or of street-independence cannot grow in
such an atmosphere. For joy is as foreign to tumult and destruction,
to harshness and selfish disregard of others, as the serene, vernal
sky with its refreshing breezes is foreign to the uproar and terrors
of the hurricane."
For this kind of ideal play we are indebted to Friedrich Froebel, and
if he had left no other legacy to childhood, we should exalt him for
If you are skeptical, let me beseech you to join the children in a
Free Kindergarten, and play with them. You will be convinced, not
through your head, perhaps, but through your heart. I remember
converting such a grim female once! You know Henry James says, "Some
women are unmarried by choice, and others by chance, but Olive
Chancellor was unmarried by every implication of her being." Now, this
predestinate spinster acquaintance of mine, well nigh spoiled by
years of school-teaching in the wrong spirit, was determined to think
kindergarten play simply a piece of nauseating frivolity. She tried
her best, but, kept in the circle with the children five successive
days, she relaxed so completely that it was with the utmost difficulty
that she kept herself from being a butterfly or a bird. It is always
so; no one can resist the unconscious happiness of children.
As for the good that comes to grown people from playing with children
in this joyous freedom and with this deep earnestness of purpose, it
is beyond all imagination. If I had a daughter who was frivolous, or
worldly, or selfish, or cold, or unthoughtful,—who regarded life as a
pleasantry, or fell into the still more stupid mistake of thinking it
not worth living,—I should not (at first) make her read the Bible, or
teach in the Sunday-school, or call on the minister, or request
the prayers of the congregation, but I should put her in a good
Kindergarten Training School. No normal young woman can resist the
influence of the study of childhood and the daily life among little
children, especially the children of the poor: it is irresistible.
Oh, these tiny teachers! If we only learned from them all we might,
instead of feeling ourselves over-wise! I never look down into the
still, clear pool of a child's innocent, questioning eyes without
thinking: "Dear little one, it must be 'give and take' between thee
and me. I have gained something here in all these years, but thou hast
come from thence more lately than have I; thou hast a treasure that
the years have stolen from me—share it with me!"
Let us endeavor, then, to make the child's life objective to him. Let
us unlock to him the significance of family, social, and national
relationships, so that he may grow into sympathy with them. He loves
the symbol which interprets his nature to himself, and in his eager
play, he pictures the life he longs to understand.
If we could make such education continuous, if we could surround
the child in his earlier years with such an atmosphere of goodness,
beauty, and wisdom, none can doubt that he would unconsciously grow
into harmony and union with the All-Good, the All-Beautiful, and the
"Books cannot teach what toys inculcate."
In the preceding chapter we discussed Froebel's plays, and found that
the playful spirit which pervades all the kindergarten exercises must
not be regarded as trivial, since it has a philosophic motive and a
definite, earnest purpose.
We discussed the meaning of childish play, and deplored the lack of
good and worthy national nursery plays. Passing then to Froebel's
"Mother-Play," we found that the very heart of his educational idea
lies in the book, and that it serves as a guide for mothers whose
babies are yet in their arms, as well as for those who have little
children of four or five years under their care.
We found that in Froebel's plays the mirror is held up to universal
life; that the child in playing them grows into unconscious sympathy
with the natural, the human, the divine; that by "playing at" the life
he longs to understand, he grows at last into a conscious realization
of its mysteries—its truth, its meaning, its dignity, its purpose.
We found that symbolic play leads the child from the symbol to the
We discovered that the carefully chosen words of the kindergarten
songs and games suggest thought to the child, the thought suggests
gesture, the melody begets spiritual feeling.
We discussed the relation of body and mind; the effect of bodily
attitudes on feeling and thought, as well as the moulding of the body
by the indwelling mind.
Froebel's playthings are as significant as his plays. If you examine
the materials he offers children in his "gifts and occupations," you
cannot help seeing that they meet the child's natural wants in a truly
wonderful manner, and that used in connection with conversations and
stories and games they address and develop his love of movement and
his love of rhythm; his desire to touch and handle, to play and work
(to be busy), and his curiosity to know; his instincts of construction
and comparison, his fondness for gardening and digging in the earth;
his social impulse, and finally his religious feeling.
Froebel himself says if his educational materials are found useful, it
cannot be because of their exterior, which is as simple as possible,
and contains nothing new; but their worth is to be found exclusively
in their application. If you can work out his principles (or better
ones still when we find better ones) by other means, pray do it if you
prefer; since the object of the kindergartner is not to make Froebel
an idol, but an ideal. He seems to have found type-forms admirable
for awaking the higher senses of the child, and unlike the usual
scheme of object lessons, they tell a continued story. When the
object-method first burst upon the enraptured sight of the teacher,
this list of subjects appeared in a printed catalogue, showing the
ground of study in a certain school for six months:—
"Tea, spiders, apple, hippopotamus, cow, cotton, duck, sugar,
rabbits, rice, lighthouse, candle, lead-pencil, pins, tiger, clothing,
silver, butter-making, giraffe, onion, soda!"
Such reckless heterogeneity as this is impossible with Froebel's
educational materials, for even if they are given to the child without
a single word, they carry something of their own logic with them.
They emphasize the gospel of doing, for Froebel believes in positives
in teaching, not negatives; in stimulants, not deterrents. How
inexpressibly tiresome is the everlasting "Don't!" in some households.
Don't get in the fire, don't play in the water, don't tease the kitty,
don't trouble the doggy, don't bother the lady, don't interrupt, don't
contradict, don't fidget with your brother, and don't worry me
now; while perhaps in this whole tirade, not a word has been said of
something to do.
Let sleeping faults lie as long as possible while we quietly oust
them, little by little, by developing the good qualities. Surely the
less we use deterrents the better, since they are often the child's
first introduction to what is undesirable or wrong. I am quite sure
they have something of that effect on grown people. The telling us not
to do, and that we cannot, must not, do a certain thing surrounds it
with a momentary fascination. If your enemy suggests that there is a
pot of Paris green on the piazza, but you must not take a spoonful and
dissolve it in a cup of honey and give it to your maiden aunt who has
made her will in your favor, your innocent mind hovers for an instant
over the murderous idea.
Froebel's play-materials come to the child when he has entered upon
the war-path of getting "something to do." If legitimate means fail,
then "let the portcullis fall;" the child must be busy.
The fly on the window-pane will be crushed, the kettle tied to the
dog's tail, the curtains cut into snips, the baby's hair shingled,—
anything that his untiring hands may not pause an instant,—anything
that his chubby legs may take his restless body over a circuit of a
hundred miles or so before he is immured in his crib for the night.
The child of four or five years is still interested in objects, in the
concrete. He wants to see and to hear, to examine and to work with his
hands. How absurd then for us to make him fold his arms and keep his
active fingers still; or strive to stupefy him with such an opiate as
the alphabet. If we can possess our souls and primers in patience for
a while, and feed his senses; if we will let him take in living facts
and await the result; that result will be that when he has learned to
perceive, compare, and construct, he will desire to learn words, for
they tell him what others have seen, thought, and done. This reading
and writing, what is it, after all, but the signs for things and
thoughts? Logically we must first know things, then thoughts, then
their records. The law of human progress is from physical activity to
mental power, from a Hercules to a Shakespeare, and it is as true for
each unit of humanity as it is for the race.
Everything in Froebel's playthings trains the child to quick, accurate
observation. They help children to a fuller vision, they lead them to
see. Did you ever think how many people there are who "having eyes,
Ruskin says, "Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but
thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry,
prophecy, religion, all in one."
A gentleman who is trying to write the biography of a great
man complained to me lately, that in consulting a dozen of his
friends—men and women who had known him as preacher, orator,
reformer, and poet—so few of them had anything characteristic and
fine to relate. "What," he said "is the use of trying to write
biography with such mummies for witnesses! They would have seen just
as much if they had had nothing but glass eyes in their heads."
What is education good for that does not teach the mind to observe
accurately and define picturesquely? To get at the essence of an
object and clear away the accompanying rubbish, this is the only
training that fits men and women to live with any profit to themselves
or pleasure to others. What a biographer, for example, or at least
what a witness for some other biographer, was latent in the little boy
who, when told by his teacher to define a bat, said: "He's a nasty
little mouse, with injy-rubber wings and shoe-string tail, and bites
like the devil." There was an eye worth having! Agassiz himself could
not have hit off better the salient characteristics of the little
creature in question. Had that remarkable boy been brought into
contact, for five minutes only, with Julius Caesar, who can doubt that
the telling description he would have given of him would have come
down through all the ages?
I do not mean to urge the adoption of any ultra-utilitarian standpoint
in regard to playthings, or advise you rudely to enter the realm of
early infancy and interfere with the baby's legitimate desires by any
meddlesome pedagogic reasoning. Choose his toys wisely and then leave
him alone with them. Leave him to the throng of emotional impressions
they will call into being. Remember that they speak to his feelings
when his mind is not yet open to reason. The toy at this period is
surrounded with a halo of poetry and mystery, and lays hold of the
imagination and the heart without awaking vulgar curiosity. Thrice
happy age when one can hug one's white woolly lamb to one's bibbed
breast, kiss its pink bead eyes in irrational ecstasy, and manipulate
the squeak in its foreground without desire to explore the cause
At this period the well-beloved toy, the dumb sharer of the child's
joys and sorrows, becomes the nucleus of a thousand enterprises, each
rendered more fascinating by its presence and sympathy. If the toy be
a horse, they take imaginary journeys together, and the road is doubly
delightful because never traveled alone. If it be a house, the child
lives therein a different life for every day in the week; for
no monarch alive is so all-powerful as he whose throne is the
imagination. Little tin soldier, Shem, Ham, and Japhet from the Noah's
Ark, the hornless cow, the tailless dog, and the elephant that won't
stand up, these play their allotted parts in his innocent comedies,
and meanwhile he grows steadily in sympathy and in comprehension
of the ever-widening circle of human relationships. "When we have
restored playthings to their place in education—a place which assigns
them the principal part in the development of human sympathies, we can
later on put in the hands of children objects whose impressions will
reach their minds more particularly."
Dr. E. Seguin, our Commissioner of Education to the Universal
Exhibition at Vienna, philosophizes most charmingly on children's toys
in his Report (chapter on the Training of Special Senses). He says the
vast array of playthings (separated by nationalities) left at first
sight an impression of silly sameness; but that a second look
"discovered in them particular characters, as of national
idiosyncrasies; and a closer examination showed that these puerilities
had sense enough in them, not only to disclose the movements of the
mind, but to predict what is to follow."
He classifies the toys exhibited, and in so doing gives us delightful
and valuable generalizations, some of which I will quote:—
"Chinese and Japanese toys innumerable, as was to have been expected.
Japanese toys much brighter, the dolls relieved in gold and gaudy
colors, absolutely saucy. The application of the natural and
mechanical forces in their toys cannot fail to determine the taste of
the next generation towards physical sciences.
"Chinese dolls are sober in color, meek in demeanor, and comprehensive
in mien…. The favorite Chinese toy remains the theatrical scene
where the family is treated à la Molière.
"Persia sends beautiful toys, from which can be inferred a national
taste for music, since most of their dolls are blowing instruments.
"Turkey, Egypt, Arabia, have sent no dolls. Do they make none, under
the impression, correct in a low state of culture, that dolls for
children become idols for men?
"The Finlanders and Laplanders, who are not troubled with such
religious prejudices, give rosy cheeks and bodies as fat as seals to
"The French toy represents the versatility of the nation, touching
every topic, grave or grotesque.
"From Berlin come long trains of artillery, regiments of lead, horse
and foot on moving tramways.
"From the Hartz and the Alps still issue those wooden herds, more
characteristic of the dull feelings of their makers than of the
instincts of the animals they represent.
"The American toys justify the rule we have found good elsewhere, that
their character both reveals and prefaces the national tendencies.
With us, toys refer the mind and habits of children to home economy,
husbandry, and mechanical labor; and their very material is durable,
mainly wood and iron.
"So from childhood every people has its sympathies expressed or
suppressed, and set deeper in its flesh and blood than scholastic
ideas…. The children who have no toys seize realities very late, and
never form ideals…. The nations rendered famous by their artists,
artisans, and idealists have supplied their infants with many toys,
for there is more philosophy and poetry in a single doll than in a
thousand books…. If you will tell us what your children play with,
we will tell you what sort of women and men they will be; so let
this Republic make the toys which will raise the moral and artistic
character of her children."
Froebel's educational toys do us one service, in that they preach a
silent but impressive sermon on simplicity.
It is easy to see that the hurlyburly of our modern life is not wholly
favorable to the simple creed of childhood, "delight and liberty, when
busy or at rest," but we might make it a little less artificial than
we do, perhaps.
Every thoughtful person knows that the simple, natural playthings of
the old-fashioned child, which are nothing more than pegs on which he
hangs his glowing fancies, are healthier than our complicated modern
mechanisms, in which the child has only to "press the button" and the
toy "does the rest."
The electric-talking doll, for example—imagine a generation of
children brought up on that! And the toy-makers are not even content
with this grand personage, four feet high, who says "Papa! Mamma!" She
is passée already; they have begun to improve on her! An electrician
described to me the other day a superb new altruistic doll, fitted
to the needs of the present decade. You are to press a judiciously
located button and ask her the test question, which is, if she will
have some candy; whereupon with an angelic detached-movement-smile
(located in the left cheek), she is to answer, "Give brother big
piece; give me little piece!" If the thing gets out of order (and I
devoutly hope it will), it will doubtless return to a state of nature,
and horrify the bystanders by remarking, "Give me big piece! Give
brother little piece!"
Think of having a gilded dummy like that given you to amuse yourself
with! Think of having to play,—to play, forsooth, with a model of
propriety, a high-minded monstrosity like that! Doesn't it make you
long for your dear old darkey doll with the raveled mouth, and the
stuffing leaking out of her legs; or your beloved Arabella Clarinda
with the broken nose, beautiful even in dissolution,—creatures "not
too bright or good for human nature's daily food"? Banged, battered,
hairless, sharers of our mad joys and reckless sorrows, how we
loved them in their simple ugliness! With what halos of romance we
surrounded them! with what devotion we nursed the one with the broken
head, in those early days when new heads were not to be bought at the
nearest shop. And even if they could have been purchased for us, would
we, the primitive children of those dear, dark ages, have ever thought
of wrenching off the cracked blonde head of Ethelinda and buying a
new, strange, nameless brunette head, gluing it calmly on Ethelinda's
body, as a small acquaintance of mine did last week, apparently
without a single pang? Never! A doll had a personality in those times,
and has yet, to a few simple backwoods souls, even in this day and
generation. Think of Charles Kingsley's song,—"I once had a sweet
little doll, dears." Can we imagine that as written about one of these
modern monstrosities with eyeglasses and corsets and vinaigrettes?
"I once had a sweet little doll, dears,
The prettiest doll in the world,
Her face was so red and so white, dears,
And her hair was so charmingly curled;
But I lost my poor little doll, dears,
As I played on the heath one day,
And I sought for her more than a week, dears,
But I never could find where she lay.
"I found my poor little doll, dears,
As I played on the heath one day;
Folks say she is terribly changed, dears,
For her paint is all washed away;
And her arms trodden off by the cows, dears,
And her hair not the least bit curled;
Yet for old sake's sake she is still, dears,
The prettiest doll in the world."
Long live the doll!
"Dolly-o'diamonds, precious lamb,
Humming-bird, honey-pot, jewel, jam,
"Take away the doll, you erase from the heart and head feelings,
images, poetry, aspiration, experience, ready for application to real
Every mother knows the development of tenderness and motherliness
that goes on in her little girl through the nursing and petting and
teaching and caring for her doll. There is a good deal of journalistic
anxiety concerning the decline of mothers. Is it possible that
fathers, too, are in any danger of decline? It is impossible to
overestimate the sacredness and importance of the mother-spirit in the
universe, but the father-spirit is not positively valueless (so far
as it goes). The newspaper-pessimists talk comparatively little about
developing that in the young male of the species. In three years'
practical experience among the children of the poorer classes, and
during all the succeeding years, when I have filled the honorary and
honorable offices of general-utility woman, story-teller, song-singer,
and playmaker-in-ordinary to their royal highnesses, some thousands
of babies, I have been struck with the greater hardness of the small
boys; a certain coarseness of fibre and lack of sensitiveness which
makes them less susceptible, at first, to gentle influences.
Once upon a time I set about developing this father spirit in a group
of little gamins whose general attitude toward the weaker sex, toward
birds and flowers and insects, toward beauty in distress and wounded
sensibility, was in the last degree offensive. In the bird games we
had always had a mother bird in the nest with the birdlings; we now
introduced a father bird into the game. Though the children had been
only a little time in the kindergarten, and were not fully baptized
into the spirit of play, still the boys were generally willing to
personate the father bird, since their delight in the active and manly
occupation of flying about the room seeking worms overshadowed their
natural repugnance to feeding the young. This accomplished, we played
"Master Rider," in which a small urchin capered about on a hobby
horse, going through a variety of adventures, and finally returning
with presents to wife and children. This in turn became a matter of
natural experience, and we moved towards our grand coup d'état.
Once a week we had dolls' day, when all the children who owned them
brought their dolls, and the exercises were ordered with the single
view of amusing and edifying them. The picture of that circle of
ragged children comes before me now and dims my eyes with its pathetic
Such dolls! Five-cent, ten-cent dolls; dolls with soiled clothes and
dolls in a highly indecorous state of nudity; dolls whose ruddy hues
of health had been absorbed into their mothers' systems; dolls made
of rags, dolls made of carrots, and dolls made of towels; but all
dispensing odors of garlic in the common air. Maternal affection,
however, pardoned all limitations, and they were clasped as fondly to
maternal bosoms as if they had been imported from Paris.
"Bless my soul!" might have been the unspoken comment of these tiny
mothers. "If we are only to love our offspring when handsome and well
clothed, then the mother-heart of society is in a bad way!"
Dolls' day was the day for lullabies. I always wished I might gather
a group of stony-hearted men and women in that room and see them melt
under the magic of the scene. Perhaps you cannot imagine the union of
garlic and magic, nevertheless, O ye of little faith, it may exist.
The kindergarten cradle stood in the centre of the circle, and the
kindergarten doll, clean, beautiful, and well dressed, lay inside the
curtains, waiting to be sung to sleep with the other dolls. One little
girl after another would go proudly to the "mother's chair" and rock
the cradle, while the other children hummed their gentle lullabies. At
this juncture even the older boys (when the influence of the music had
stolen in upon their senses) would glance from side to side longingly,
as much as to say,—
"O Lord, why didst Thou not make thy servant a female, that he might
dandle one of these interesting objects without degradation!"
In such an hour I suddenly said, "Josephus, will you be the father
this time?" and without giving him a second to think, we began our
familiar lullaby. The radical nature, the full enormity, of the
proposition did not (in that moment of sweet expansion) strike
Josephus. He moved towards the cradle, seated himself in the chair,
put his foot upon the rocker, and rocked the baby soberly, while my
heart sang in triumph. After this the fathers as well as the mothers
took part in all family games, and this mighty and much-needed reform
had been worked through the magic of a fascinating plaything.
WHAT SHALL CHILDREN READ?
"What we make children love and desire is more important than what we
make them learn."
When I was a little girl (oh, six most charming words!)—it is not
necessary to name the year, but it was so long ago that children were
still reminded that they should be seen and not heard, and also that
they could eat what was set before them or go without (two maxims
that suggest a hoary antiquity of time not easily measured by the
senses),—when I was a little girl, I had the great good fortune to
live in a country village.
I believe I always had a taste for books; but I will pass over that
early period when I manifested it by carrying them to my mouth, and
endeavored to assimilate their contents by the cramming process;
and also that later stage, which heralded the dawn of the critical
faculty, perhaps, when I tore them in bits and held up the tattered
fragments with shouts of derisive laughter. Unlike the critic, no more
were given me to mar; but, like the critic, I had marred a good many
ere my vandal hand was stayed.
As soon as I could read, I had free access to an excellent medical
library, the gloom of which was brightened by a few shelves of
theological works, bequeathed to the family by some orthodox ancestor,
and tempered by a volume or two of Blackstone; but outside of these,
which were emphatically not the stuff my dreams were made of, I can
only remember a certain little walnut bookcase hanging on the wall of
the family sitting-room.
It had but three shelves, yet all the mysteries of love and life and
death were in the score of well-worn volumes that stood there side
by side; and we turned to them, year after year, with undiminished
interest. The number never seemed small, the stories never grew tame:
when we came to the end of the third shelf, we simply went back and
began again,—a process all too little known to latter-day children.
I can see them yet, those rows of shabby and incongruous volumes, the
contents of which were transferred to our hungry little brains. Some
of them are close at hand now, and I love their ragged corners, their
dog's-eared pages that show the pressure of childish thumbs, and their
dear old backs, broken in my service.
There was a red-covered "Book of Snobs;" "Vanity Fair" with no cover
at all; "Scottish Chiefs" in crimson; a brown copy of George Sand's
"Teverino;" and next it a green Bailey's "Festus," which I only
attacked when mentally rabid, and a little of which went a
surprisingly long way; and then a maroon "David Copperfield," whose
pages were limp with my kisses. (To write a book that a child would
kiss! Oh, dear reward! oh, sweet, sweet fame!)
In one corner—spare me your smiles—was a fat autobiography of
P.T. Barnum, given me by a grateful farmer for saving the life of
a valuable Jersey calf just as she was on the point of strangling
herself. This book so inflamed a naturally ardent imagination, that
I was with difficulty dissuaded from entering the arena as a circus
manager. Considerations of age or sex had no weight with me, and lack
of capital eventually proved the deterrent force. On the shelf above
were "Kenilworth," "The Lady of the Lake," and half of "Rob Roy." I
have always hesitated to read the other half, for fear that it should
not end precisely as I made it end when I was forced, by necessity, to
supplement Sir Walter Scott. Then there was "Gulliver's Travels," and
if any of the stories seemed difficult to believe, I had only to turn
to the maps of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, with the degrees of latitude
and longitude duly marked, which always convinced me that everything
was fair and aboveboard. Of course, there was a great green and gold
Shakespeare, not a properly expurgated edition for female seminaries,
either, nor even prose tales from Shakespeare adapted to young
readers, but the real thing. We expurgated as we read, child fashion,
taking into our sleek little heads all that we could comprehend
or apprehend, and unconsciously passing over what might have been
hurtful, perhaps, at a later period. I suppose we failed to get a very
close conception of Shakespeare's colossal genius, but we did get a
tremendous and lasting impression of force and power, life and truth.
When we declaimed certain scenes in an upper chamber with sloping
walls and dormer windows, a bed for a throne, a cotton umbrella for a
sceptre, our creations were harmless enough. If I remember rightly,
our nine-year-old Lady Macbeths and Iagos, Falstaffs and Cleopatras,
after they had been dipped in the divine alembic of childish
innocence, came out so respectable that they would not have brought
the historic "blush to the cheek of youth."
On the shelf above the Shakespeare were a few things presumably better
suited to childish tastes,—Hawthorne's "Wonder Book," Kingsley's
"Water Babies," Miss Edgeworth's "Rosamond," and the "Arabian Nights."
There were also two little tales given us by a wandering revivalist,
who was on a starring tour through the New England villages,
"How Gussie Grew in Grace," and "Little Harriet's Work for the
Heathen,"—melodramatic histories of spiritually perfect and
physically feeble children who blessed the world for a season, but
died young, enlivened by a few pages devoted to completely vicious and
adorable ones who lived to curse the world to a good old age.
Last of all, brought out only on state occasions, was a most seductive
edition of that nursery Gaboriau, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" with
colored illustrations in which the heads of the birds were made to
move oracularly, by means of cunningly arranged strips pulled from
the bottom of the page. This was a relic of infancy, our first
introduction to the literature of plot, counterplot, intrigue, and
crime, and the mystery of the murder was very real to us. This book,
still in existence, with all the birds headless from over-exertion,
is always inextricably associated in my mind with childish woes, as
a desire on my part to make the birds wag their heads was always
contemporaneous, to a second, with a like desire on my sister's part;
and on those rare days when the precious volume was taken down, one of
us always donned the penitential nightgown early in the afternoon and
supped frugally in bed, while the other feasted gloriously at the
family board, never quite happy in her virtue, however, since it
separated her from beloved vice in disgrace. That paltry tattered
volume, when it confronts me from its safe nook in a bureau drawer,
makes my heart beat faster and sets me dreaming! Pray tell me if any
book read in your later and wiser years ever brings to your mind such
vivid memories, to your lips so lingering a smile, to your eye so
ready a tear? True enough, "we could never have loved the earth so
well if we had had no childhood in it…. What novelty is worth that
sweet monotony where everything is known and loved because it is
This autobiographical babble is excusable for one reason only.
It is in remembering what books greatly moved us in earlier days; what
books wakened strong and healthy desires, enlarged the horizon of our
understanding, and inspired us to generous action, that we get
some clue to the books with which to surround our children; and a
reminiscence of this kind becomes a sort of psychological observation.
The moment we realize clearly that the books we read in childhood and
youth make a profound impression that can never be repeated later
(save in some rare crisis of heart and soul, where a printed page
marks an epoch in one's mental or spiritual life), then we become
reinforced in our opinion that it makes a deal of difference what
children read and how they read it.
Agnes Repplier says: "It is part of the irony of life that our
discriminating taste for books should be built up on the ashes of an
A book is such a fact to children, its people are so alive and so
heartily loved and hated, its scenes so absolutely real! Prone on the
hearth-rug before the fire, or curled in the window seat, they forget
everything but the story. The shadows deepen, until they can read
no longer; but they do not much care, for the window looks into an
enchanted region peopled with brilliant fancies. The old garden
is sometimes the Forest of Arden, sometimes the Land of Lilliput,
sometimes the Border. The gray rock on the river bank is now the cave
of Monte Cristo, and now a castle defended by scores of armed knights
who peep one by one from the alder-bushes, while Fair Ellen and the
lovely Undine float together on the quiet stream.
For forming a truly admirable literary taste, I cannot indeed say much
in favor of my own motley collection of books just mentioned, for I
was simply tumbled in among them and left to browse, in accordance
with Charles Lamb's whimsical plan for Bridget Elia. More might have
been added, and some taken away; but they had in them a world of
instruction and illumination which children miss who read too
exclusively those books written with rigid determination down to their
level, neglecting certain old classics for which we fondly believe
there are no substitutes. You cannot always persuade the children of
this generation to attack "Robinson Crusoe," and if they do they
are too sophisticated to thrill properly when they come to Friday's
footsteps in the sand. Think of it, my contemporaries: think of
substituting for that intense moment some of the modern "tuppenny"
I do not wish to drift into a cheap cynicism, and apotheosize the old
days at the expense of the new. We are often inclined to paint the
Past with a halo round its head which it never wore when it was the
Present. We can reproduce neither the children nor the conditions of
fifty or even twenty-five years ago. To-day's children must be fitted
for to-day's tasks, educated to answer to-day's questions, equipped
to solve to-day's problems; but are we helping them to do this in
absolutely the best way? At all events, it is difficult to join in the
paean of gratitude for the tons of children's books that are turned
out yearly by parental publishers. If the children of the past did not
have quite enough deference paid to their individuality, their likes
and dislikes, and if their needs were too often left until the needs
of everybody else had been considered,—on the other hand, they were
not surfeited with well-meant but ill-directed attentions. If the hay
was thrown so high in the rack that they could not pluck a single
straw without stretching up for it, why, the hay was generally worth
stretching for, and was, perhaps, quite as healthful as the sweet and
easily digested nursery porridge which some people adopt as exclusive
diet for their darlings nowadays.
Let us look a little at some of the famous children's books of a past
generation, and see what was their general style and purpose. Take,
for instance, those of Mrs. Barbauld, who may be included in that
group of men and women who completely altered the style of teaching
and writing for children—Rousseau, de Genlis, the Edgeworths,
Jacotot, Froebel, and Diesterweg, all great teachers,—didactic,
deadly-dull Mrs. Barbauld, who composed, as one of her biographers
tells us, "a considerable number of miscellaneous pieces for the
instruction and amusement of young persons, especially females."
(Girls were always "young females" in those days; children were
"infants," and stories were "tales.") Who can ever forget those "Early
Lessons," written for her adopted son Charles, who appeared in the
page sometimes in a state of hopeless ignorance and imbecility, and
sometimes clad in the wisdom of the ancients? The use of the offensive
phrase "excessively pretty," as applied to a lace tidy by a very tiny
female named Lucy, brings down upon her sinful head eleven pages
of such moralizing as would only be delivered by a modern mamma on
hearing a confession of robbery or murder.
All this does strike us as insufferably didactic, yet we cannot
approve the virulence with which Southey and Charles Lamb attacked
good Mrs. Barbauld in her old age; for her purpose was eminently
earnest, her views of education healthy and sensible for the time in
which she lived, her style polished and admirably quiet, her love
for young people indubitably sincere and profound, and her character
worthy of all respect and admiration in its dignity, womanliness, and
strength. Nevertheless, Charles Lamb exclaims in a whimsical burst of
spleen: "'Goody Two Shoes' is out of print, while Mrs. Barbauld's and
Mrs. Trimmer's nonsense lies in piles around. Hang them—the cursed
reasoning crew, those blights and blasts of all that is human in man
Miss Edgeworth has what seems to us, in these days, the same overplus
of sublime purpose, and, though a much greater writer, is quite as
desirous of being instructive, first, last, and all the time, and
quite as unable or unwilling to veil her purpose. No books, however,
have ever had a more remarkable influence upon young people, and there
are many of them—old-fashioned as they are—which the sophisticated
children of to-day could read with pleasure and profit.
Poor, naughty Rosamond! choosing the immortal "purple jar" out of
that apothecary's window, instead of the shoes she needed; and in a
following chapter, after pages of excellent maternal advice, taking
the hideous but useful "red morocco housewife" instead of the coveted
People may say what they like of Miss Edgeworth's lack of proportion
as a moralist and economist, but we have few writers for children at
present who possess the practical knowledge, mental vigor, and moral
force which made her an imposing figure in juvenile literature for
nearly a century.
There has never been a time when the difficulty of making a good use
of books was as great as it is to-day, or a time when it required so
much decision to make a wise choice, simply because there is so much
printed matter precipitated upon us that we cannot "see the wood for
It is not my province to discriminate between the various writers for
children at the present time. To give a complete catalogue of useful
books for children would be quite impossible; to give a partial list,
or endeavor to point out what is worthy and what unworthy, would be
little better. No course of reading laid down by one person ever suits
another, and the published "lists of best books," with their solemn
platitudes in the way of advice, are generally interesting only in
their reflection of the writer's personality.
I would not choose too absolutely for a child save in his earliest
years, but would rather surround him with the best and worthiest
books, and let him choose for himself; for there are elective
affinities and antipathies here that need not be disregarded,—that
are, indeed, certain indications of latent powers, and trustworthy
guides to the child's unfolding possibilities.
"Books can only be profoundly influential as they unite themselves
with decisive tendencies." Provide the right conditions for mental
growth, and then let the child do the growing. If we dictate too
absolutely, we _en_velop instead of _de_veloping his mind, and weaken
his power of choice. On the other hand, we do not wish his reading to
be partial or one-sided, as it may be without intelligent oversight.
I was telling bedtime stories, the other night, to a proper, wise,
dull little girl of ten years. When I had successfully introduced a
mother-cat and kittens to her attention, I plunged into what I thought
a graphic and perfectly natural conversation between them, when she
cut me short with the observation that she disliked stories in which
animals talked, because they were not true! I was rebuked, and tried
again with better success, until there came an unlucky figure of
speech concerning a blossoming locust-tree, that bent its green boughs
and laughed in the summer sunshine, because its flowers were fragrant
and lovely, and the world so green and beautiful. This she thought, on
sober second thought, a trifle silly, as trees never did laugh! Now,
that exasperating scrap of humanity (she is abnormal, to be sure)
ought to be locked up and fed upon fairy tales until she is able to
catch a faint glimpse of "the light that never was on sea or land."
Poor, blind, deaf little person, predestined, perhaps, to be the
mother of a lot of other blind, deaf little persons some day,—how I
should like to develop her imagination!
Whatever children read, let us see that it is good of its kind, and
that it gives variety, so that no integral want of human nature shall
be neglected,—so that neither imagination, memory, nor reflection
shall be starved. I own it is difficult to help them in their choice,
when most of us have not learned to choose wisely for ourselves. A
discriminating taste in literature is not to be gained without effort,
and our constant reading of the little books spoils our appetite for
the great ones.
Style is a matter of some moment, even at this early stage. Mothers
sometimes forget that children cannot read slipshod, awkward,
redundant prose, and sing-song vapid verse, for ten or twelve years,
and then take kindly to the best things afterward.
Long before a child is conscious of such a thing as purity,
delicacy, directness, or strength of style, he has been acted upon
unconsciously, so that when the period of conscious choice comes, he
is either attracted or repelled by what is good, according to his
training. Children are fond of vivacity and color, and love a bit of
word painting or graceful nonsense; but there are people who strive
for this, and miss, after all, the true warmth and geniality that is
most desirable for little people. Apropos of nonsense, we remember
Leigh Hunt, who says that there are two kinds of nonsense, one
resulting from a superabundance of ideas, the other from a want of
them. Style in the hands of some writers is like war-paint to the
savage—of no perceptible value unless it is laid on thick. Our
little ones begin too often on cheap and tawdry stories in one or two
syllables, where pictures in primary colors try their best to
atone for lack of matter. Then they enter on a prolonged series of
children's books, some of them written by people who have neither
the intelligence nor the literary skill to write for a more critical
audience; on the same basis of reasoning which puts the young and
inexperienced teachers into the lowest grades, where the mind ought
to be formed, and assigns to the more practiced the simpler task of
_in_forming the already partially formed (or _de_formed) mind.
There has never been such conscientious, intelligent, and purposeful
work done for children as in the last ten years; and if an
overwhelming flood of trash has been poured into our laps along with
the better things, we must accept the inevitable. The legends, myths,
and fables of the world, as well as its history and romance, are being
brought within reach of young readers by writers of wide knowledge and
Knowing, then, as we do, the dangers and obstacles in the way, and
realizing the innumerable inspirations which the best thought gives to
us, can we not so direct the reading of our children that our older
boys and girls shall not be so exclusively modern in their tastes; so
that they may be inclined to take a little less Mr. Saltus, a little
more Shakespeare, temper their devotion to Mr. Kipling by small doses
of Dante, forsake "The Duchess" for a dip into Thackeray, and use
Hawthorne as a safe and agreeable antidote to Mr. Haggard? We need not
despair of the child who does not care to read, for books are not the
only means of culture; but they are a very great means when the mind
is really stimulated, and not simply padded with them.
Mr. Frederic Harrison says: "Books are no more education than laws are
virtue. Of all men, perhaps the book-lover needs most to be reminded
that man's business here is to know for the sake of living, not to
live for the sake of knowing."
But a child who has no taste for reading, who is utterly incapable of
losing himself in a printed page, quite unable to forget his childish
Soul forward, headlong into a book's profound,
Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth,"
—such a child is to be pitied as missing one of the chief joys of
life. Such a child has no dear old book-friendships to look back upon.
He has no sweet associations with certain musty covers and time-worn
pages; no sacred memories of quiet moments when a new love of
goodness, a new throb of generosity, a new sense of humanity, were
born in the ardent young soul; born when we had turned the last page
of some well-thumbed volume and pressed our tear-stained childish
cheek against the window pane, when it was growing dusk without, and a
mother's voice called us from our shelter to "Lay the book down, dear,
and come to tea." For, to speak in better words than my own, "It
is the books we read before middle life that do most to mould our
characters and influence our lives; and this not only because our
natures are then plastic and our opinions flexible, but also because,
to produce lasting impression, it is necessary to give a great author
time and meditation. The books that are with us in the leisure of
youth, that we love for a time not only with the enthusiasm, but with
something of the exclusiveness, of a first love, are those that enter
as factors forever in our mental life."
"To be a good story-teller is to be a king among children."
The business of story-telling is carried on from the soundest of
economic motives, in order to supply a constant and growing demand.
We are forced to satisfy the clamorous nursery-folk that beset us on
Beside us stands an eager little creature quivering with expectation,
gazing with wide-open eyes, and saying appealingly, "Tell me a story!"
or perhaps a circle of toddlers is gathered round, each one offering
the same fervent prayer, with so much trust and confidence expressed
in look and gesture that none but a barbarian could bear to disappoint
The story-teller is the children's special property. When once his
gifts have been found out, he may bid good-by to his quiet snooze by
the fire, or his peaceful rest with a favorite book. Though he hide in
the uttermost parts of the house, yet will he be discovered and made
to deliver up his treasure. On this one subject, at least, the little
ones of the earth are a solid, unanimous body; for never yet was seen
the child who did not love the story and prize the story-teller.
Perhaps we never dreamed of practicing the art of story-telling till
we were drawn into it by the imperious commands of the little ones
about us. It is an untrodden path to us, and we scarcely understand
as yet its difficulties and hindrances, its breadth and its
possibilities. Yet this eager, unceasing demand of the child-nature we
must learn to supply, and supply wisely; for we must not think that
all the food we give the little one will be sure to agree with him.
because he is so hungry. This would be no more true of a mental than
of a physical diet.
What objects, then, shall our stories serve beyond the important one
of pleasing the little listeners? How can we make them distinctly
serviceable, filling the difficult and well-nigh impossible rôle of
"useful as well as ornamental"?
There are, of course, certain general benefits which the child gains
in the hearing of all well-told stories. These are, familiarity with
good English, cultivation of the imagination, development of sympathy,
and clear impression of moral truth. We shall find, however, that all
stories appropriate for young children naturally divide themselves
into the following classes:—
I. The purely imaginative or fanciful, and here belongs the so-called
II. The realistic, devoted to things which have happened, and might,
could, would, or should happen without violence to probability. These
are generally the vehicle for moral lessons which are all the more
impressive because not insisted on.
III. The scientific, conveying bits of information about animals,
flowers, rocks, and stars.
IV. The historical, or simple, interesting accounts of the lives of
heroes and events in our country's struggle for life and liberty.
There is a great difference in opinion regarding the advisability of
telling fairy stories to very young children, and there can be no
question that some of them are entirely undesirable and inappropriate.
Those containing a fierce or horrible element must, of course, be
promptly ruled out of court, including the "bluggy" tales of cruel
stepmothers, ferocious giants and ogres, which fill the so-called
fairy literature. Yet those which are pure in tone and gay with
fanciful coloring may surely be told occasionally, if only for the
quickening of the imagination. Perhaps, however, it is best to keep
them as a sort of sweetmeat, to be taken on, high days and holidays
Let us be realistic, by all means; but beware, O story-teller! of
being too realistic. Avoid the "shuddering tale" of the wicked boy who
stoned the birds, lest some hearer be inspired to try the dreadful
experiment and see if it really does kill. Tell not the story of the
bears who were set on a hot stove to learn to dance, for children
quickly learn to gloat over the horrible.
Deal with the positive rather than the negative in story-telling;
learn to affirm, not to deny.
Some one perhaps will say here, the knowledge of cruelty and sin must
come some time to the child; then why shield him from it now? True,
it must come; but take heed that you be not the one to introduce it
arbitrarily. "Stand far off from childhood," says Jean Paul, "and
brush not away the flower-dust with your rough fist."
The truths of botany, of mineralogy, of zoology, may be woven into
attractive stories which will prove as interesting to the child as the
most extravagant fairy tale. But endeavor to shape your narrative so
dexterously around the bit of knowledge you wish to convey, that it
may be the pivotal point of interest, that the child may not suspect
for a moment your intention of instructing him under the guise of
amusement. Should this dark suspicion cross his mind, your power is
Weakened from that moment, and he will look upon you henceforth as a
deeply dyed hypocrite.
The historic story is easily told, and universally interesting, if
you make it sufficiently clear and simple. The account of the first
Thanksgiving Day, of the discovery of America, of the origin of
Independence Day, of the boyhood of our nation's heroes,—all these
can be made intelligible and charming to children. I suggest topics
dealing with our own country only, because the child must learn to
know the near-at-hand before he can appreciate the remote. It is best
that he should gain some idea of the growth of his own traditions
before he wanders into the history of other lands.
In any story which has to do with soldiers and battles, do not be too
martial. Do not permeate your tale with the roar of guns, the smell of
powder, and the cries of the wounded. Inculcate as much as possible
the idea of a struggle for a principle, and omit the horrors of war.
We must remember that upon the kind of stories we tell the child
depends much of his later taste in literature. We can easily create a
hunger for highly spiced and sensational writing by telling grotesque
and horrible tales in childhood. When the little one has learned to
read, when he holds the key to the mystery of books, then he will seek
in them the same food which so gratified his palate in earlier years.
We are just beginning to realize the importance of beginnings in
True, a king of Israel whose wisdom is greatly extolled, and whose
writings are widely read, urged the importance of the early training
of children about three thousand years ago; but the progress of
truth in the world is proverbially slow. When parents and teachers,
legislators and lawgivers, are at last heartily convinced of the
inestimable importance of the first six years of childhood, then the
plays and occupations of that formative period of life will no longer
be neglected or left to chance, and the exercise of story-telling will
assume its proper place as an educative influence.
Long ago, when I was just beginning the study of childhood, and when
all its possibilities were rising before me, "up, up, from glory
to glory,"—long ago, I was asked to give what I considered the
qualifications of an ideal kindergartner.
My answer was as follows,—brief perhaps, but certainly
The music of St. Cecilia.
The art of Raphael.
The dramatic genius of Rachel.
The administrative ability of Cromwell.
The wisdom of Solomon.
The meekness of Moses, and—
The patience of Job.
Twelve years' experience with children has not lowered my ideals one
whit, nor led me to deem superfluous any of these qualifications; in
fact, I should make the list a little longer were I to write it now,
and should add, perhaps, the prudence of Franklin, the inventive power
of Edison, and the talent for improvisation of the early Troubadours.
The Troubadours, indeed, could they return to the earth, would wander
about lonely and unwelcomed till they found home and refuge in the
hospitable atmosphere of the kindergarten,—the only spot in the
busy modern world where delighted audiences still gather around the
If I were asked to furnish a recipe for one of these professional
story-tellers, these spinners of childish narratives, I should suggest
one measure of pure literary taste, two of gesture and illustration,
three of dramatic fire, and four of ready speech and clear expression.
If to these you add a pinch of tact and sympathy, the compound should
be a toothsome one, and certain to agree with all who taste it.
And now as to the kind of story our professional is to tell. In
selecting this, the first point to consider is its suitability to
the audience. A story for very little ones, three or four years old
perhaps, must be simple, bright, and full of action. They do not yet
know how to listen; their comprehension of language is very limited,
and their sympathies quite undeveloped. Nor are they prepared to take
wing with you into the lofty realms of the imagination: the adventures
of the playful kitten, of the birdling learning to fly, of the lost
ball, of the faithful dog,—things which lie within their experience
and belong to the sweet, familiar atmosphere of the household,—these
they enjoy and understand.
It will be found also that the number of children to whom one is
talking is a prominent factor in the problem of selecting a story.
Two or three little ones, gathered close about you, may pay strict
attention to a quiet, calm, eventless history; but a circle of twenty
or thirty eager, restless little people needs more sparkle and
If one is addressing a large number of children, the homes from which
they come must be considered. Children of refined, cultivated parents,
who have listened to family conversation, who have been talked to and
encouraged to express themselves,—these are able to understand much
more lofty themes than the poor little mites who are only familiar
with plain, practical ideas, and rough speech confined to the most
ordinary wants of life.
And now, after the story is well selected, how long shall it be? It
is impossible to fix an exact limit to the time it should occupy, for
much depends on the age and the number of the children. I am reminded
again of recipes, and of the dismay of the inexperienced cook when she
reads, "Stir in flour enough to make a stiff batter." Alas! how is she
who has never made a stiff batter to settle the exact amount of flour
I might give certain suggestions as to time, such as, "Close while
the interest is still fresh;" or, "Do not make the tale so long as
to weary the children;" but after all, these are only cook-book
directions. In this, as in many other departments of work with
children, one must learn in that "dear school" which "experience
keeps." Five minutes, however, is quite long enough with the babies,
and you will find that twice this time spent with the older children
will give room for a tale of absorbing interest, with appropriate
introduction and artistic dénouement.
As one of the chief values of the exercise is the familiarity with
good English which it gives, I need not say that especial attention
must be paid to the phraseology in which the story is clothed. Many
persons who never write ungrammatically are inaccurate in speech, and
the very familiarity and ease of manner which the story-teller must
assume may lead her into colloquialisms and careless expressions. Of
course, however, the language must be simple; the words, for the most
part, Saxon. No ponderous, Johnsonian expressions should drag their
slow length through the recital, entangling in their folds the
comprehension of the child; nor, on the other hand, need we confine
ourselves to monosyllables, adopting the bald style of Primers and
First Readers. It is quite possible to talk simply and yet with grace
and feeling, and we may be sure that children invariably appreciate
poetry of expression.
The story should always be accompanied with gestures,—simple, free,
unstudied motions, descriptive, perhaps, of the sweep of the mother
bird's wings as she soars away from the nest, or the waving of the
fir-tree's branches as he sings to himself in the sunshine. This
universal language is understood at once by the children, and not
only serves as an interpreter of words and ideas, but gives life and
attraction to the exercise.
Illustrations, either impromptu or carefully prepared beforehand, are
always hailed with delight by the children. Nor need you hesitate to
try your "'prentice hand" at this work. Never mind if you "cannot
draw." It must be a rude picture, indeed, which is not enjoyed by an
audience of little people. Their vivid imaginations will triumph over
all difficulties, and enable them to see the ideal shining through the
real. It is well now and then, also, to have the children illustrate
the story. Their drawings, if executed quite without help, are, most
interesting from a psychological standpoint, and will afford great
delight to you, as well as to the little artists themselves.
The stories can also be illustrated with clay modeling, an idealized
mud-pie-making very dear to children. They soon become quite expert in
moulding simple objects, and enjoy the work with all the capacity of
their childish hearts.
Now and then encourage the little ones to repeat what they remember of
the tale you have told, or to tell something new on the same theme. If
the story you have given has been within their range and on a familiar
subject, a torrent of infantile reminiscence will immediately gush
forth, and you will have a miniature "experience meeting." If you have
been telling a dog story, for instance,—"I hed a dog once't," cries
Jimmy breathlessly, and is just about to tell some startling incident
concerning him, when Nickey pipes up, "And so hed I, and the pound man
tuk him;" and so on, all around the circle in the Free Kindergarten,
each child palpitating with eagerness to give you his bit of personal
Gather the little ones as near to you as possible when you are telling
stories, the tiniest in your lap, the others cuddled at your knee.
This is easily managed in the nursery, but is more difficult with a
large circle of children. With the latter you can but seat yourself
among the wee ones, confident that the interest of the story will hold
the attention of the older children.
What a happy hour it is, this one of story-telling, dear and sacred to
every child-lover! What an eager, delightful audience are these little
ones, grieving at the sorrows of the heroes, laughing at their happy
successes, breathless with anxiety lest the cat catch the disobedient
mouse, clapping hands when the Ugly Duckling is changed into the
Swan,—all appreciation, all interest, all joy! We might count the
rest of the world well lost, could we ever be surrounded by such
blooming faces, such loving hearts, and such ready sympathy.
THE RELATION OF THE KINDERGARTEN TO SOCIAL REFORM
"New social and individual wants demand new solutions of the problem
"Social reform!" It is always rather an awe-striking phrase. It seems
as if one ought to be a philosopher, even to approach so august a
subject. The kindergarten—a simple unpretentious place, where a lot
of tiny children work and play together; a place into which if the
hard-headed man of business chanced to glance, and if he did not stay
long enough, or come often enough, would conclude that the children
were frittering away their time, particularly if that same good man of
business had weighed and measured and calculated so long that he had
lost the seeing eye and understanding heart.
Some years ago, a San Francisco kindergartner was threading her way
through a dirty alley, making friendly visits to the children of her
flock. As she lingered on a certain door-step, receiving the last
confidences of some weary woman's heart, she heard a loud but not
unfriendly voice ringing from an upper window of a tenement-house just
round the corner. "Clear things from under foot!" pealed the voice, in
stentorian accents. "The teacher o' the Kids' Guards is comin' down
"Eureka!" thought the teacher, with a smile. "There's a bit of
sympathetic translation for you! At last, the German word has been put
into the vernacular. The odd, foreign syllables have been taken to the
ignorant mother by the lisping child, and the kindergartners have
become the Kids' Guards! Heaven bless the rough translation,
colloquial as it is! No royal accolade could be dearer to its
recipients than this quaint, new christening!"
What has the kindergarten to do with social reform? What bearing have
its theory and practice upon the conduct of life?
A brass-buttoned guardian of the peace remarked to a gentleman on a
street-corner, "If we could open more kindergartens, sir, we could
almost shut up the penitentiaries, sir!" We heard the sentiment,
applauded it, and promptly printed it on the cover of three thousand
reports; but on calm reflection it appears like an exaggerated
statement. I am not sure that a kindergarten in every ward of every
city in America "would almost shut up the penitentiaries, sir!" The
most determined optimist is weighed down by the feeling that it will
take more than the ardent prosecution of any one reform, however
vital, to produce such a result. We appoint investigating committees,
who ask more and more questions, compile more and more statistics, and
get more and more confused every year. "Are our criminals native or
foreign born?" that we may know whether we are worse or better than
other people? "Have they ever learned a trade?" that we may prove what
we already know, that idle fingers are the devil's tools; "Have they
been educated?"—by any one of the sorry methods that take shelter
under that much-abused word,—that we may know whether ignorance is
a bliss or a blister; "Are they married or single?" that we may
determine the influence of home ties; "Have they been given to the use
of liquor?" that we may heap proof on proof, mountain high, against
the monster evil of intemperance; "What has been their family
history?" that we may know how heavily the law of heredity has laid
its burdens upon them. Burning questions all, if we would find out the
causes of crime.
To discover the why and wherefore of things is a law of human
thought. The reform schools, penitentiaries, prisons, insane asylums,
hospitals, and poorhouses are all filled to overflowing; and it
is entirely sensible to inquire how the people came there, and to
relieve, pardon, bless, cure, or reform them as far as we can.
Meanwhile, as we are dismissing or blessing or burying the
unfortunates from the imposing front gates of our institutions, new
throngs are crowding in at the little back doors. Life is a bridge,
full of gaping holes, over which we must all travel! A thousand evils
of human misery and wickedness flow in a dark current beneath; and the
blind, the weak, the stupid, and the reckless are continually falling
through into the rushing flood. We must, it is true, organize our
life-boats. It is our duty to pluck out the drowning wretches, receive
their vows of penitence and gratitude, and pray for courage and
resignation when they celebrate their rescue by falling in again. But
we agree nowadays that we should do them much better service if we
could contrive to mend more of the holes in the bridge.
The kindergarten is trying to mend one of these "holes." It is a tiny
one, only large enough for a child's foot; but that is our bit of the
world's work,—to keep it small! If we can prevent the little people
from stumbling, we may hope that the grown folks will have a surer
foot and a steadier gait.
A wealthy lady announced her intention of giving $25,000 to some Home
for Incurables. "Why," cried a bright kindergartner, "don't you give
twelve and a half thousand to some Home for Curables, and then your
other twelve and a half will go so much further?"
In a word, solicitude for childhood is one of the signs of a growing
civilization. "To cure, is the voice of the past; to prevent, the
divine whisper of to-day."
What is the true relation of the kindergarten to social reform?
Evidently, it can have no other relation than that which grows out of
its existence as a plan of education. Education, we have all glibly
agreed, lessens the prevalence of crime. That sounds very well; but,
as a matter of fact, has our past system produced all the results in
this direction that we have hoped and prayed for?
The truth is, people will not be made much better by education until
the plan of educating them is made better to begin with.
Froebel's idea—the kindergarten idea—of the child and its powers,
of humanity and its destiny, of the universe, of the whole problem of
living, is somewhat different from that held by the vast majority
of parents and teachers. It is imperfectly carried out, even in
the kindergarten itself, where a conscious effort is made, and is
infrequently attempted in the school or family.
His plan of education covers the entire period between the nursery and
the university, and contains certain essential features which bear
close relation to the gravest problems of the day. If they could be
made an integral part of all our teaching in families, schools, and
institutions, the burdens under which society is groaning to-day
would fall more and more lightly on each succeeding generation. These
essential features have often been enumerated. I am no fortunate
herald of new truth. I may not even put the old wine in new bottles;
but iteration is next to inspiration, and I shall give you the result
of eleven years' experience among the children and homes of the poorer
classes. This experience has not been confined, to teaching. One does
not live among these people day after day, pleading for a welcome for
unwished-for babies, standing beside tiny graves, receiving pathetic
confidences from wretched fathers and helpless mothers, without facing
every problem of this workaday world; they cannot all be solved, even
by the wisest of us; we can only seize the end of the skein nearest to
our hand, and patiently endeavor to straighten the tangled threads.
The kindergarten starts out plainly with the assumption that the moral
aim in education is the absolute one, and that all others are purely
relative. It endeavors to be a life-school, where all the practices of
complete living are made a matter of daily habit. It asserts boldly
that doing right would not be such an enormously difficult matter if
we practiced it a little,—say a tenth as much as we practice the
piano,—and it intends to give children plenty of opportunity for
practice in this direction. It says insistently and eternally, "Do
noble things, not dream them all day long." For development, action is
the indispensable requisite. To develop moral feeling and the power
and habit of moral doing we must exercise them, excite, encourage, and
guide their action. To check, reprove, and punish wrong feeling and
doing, however necessary it be for the safety and harmony, nay, for
the very existence of any social state, does not develop right feeling
and good doing. It does not develop anything, for it stops action,
and without action there is no development. At best it stops wrong
development, that is all.
In the kindergarten, the physical, mental, and spiritual being
is consciously addressed at one and the same time. There is no
"piece-work" tolerated. The child is viewed in his threefold
relations, as the child of Nature, the child of Man, and the child
of God; there is to be no disregarding any one of these divinely
appointed relations. It endeavors with equal solicitude to instill
correct and logical habits of thought, true and generous habits of
feeling, and pure and lofty habits of action; and it asserts serenely
that, if information cannot be gained in the right way, it would
better not be gained at all. It has no special hobby, unless you would
call its eternal plea for the all-sided development of the child a
Somebody said lately that the kindergarten people had a certain stock
of metaphysical statements to be aired on every occasion, and that
they were over-fond of prating about the "being" of the child. It
would hardly seem as if too much could be said in favor of the
symmetrical growth of the child's nature. These are not mere "silken
phrases;" but, if any one dislikes them, let him take the good,
honest, ringing charge of Colonel Parker, "Remember that the whole boy
goes to school!"
Yes, the whole boy does go to school; but the whole boy is seldom
educated after he gets there. A fraction of him is attended to in the
evening, however, and a fraction on Sunday. He takes himself in hand
on Saturdays and in vacation time, and accomplishes a good deal,
notwithstanding the fact that his sight is a trifle impaired already,
and his hearing grown a little dull, so that Dame Nature works at a
disadvantage, and begins, doubtless, to dread boys who have enjoyed
too much "schooling," since it seems to leave them in a state of coma.
Our general scheme of education furthers mental development with
considerable success. The training of the hand is now being
laboriously woven into it; but, even when that is accomplished, we
shall still be working with imperfect aims, for the stress laid upon
heart-culture is as yet in no way commensurate with its gravity. We
know, with that indolent, fruitless half-knowledge that passes for
knowing, that "out of the heart are the issues of life." We feel,
not with the white heat of absolute conviction, but placidly and
indifferently, as becomes the dwellers in a world of change, that
"conduct is three fourths of life;" but we do not crystallize this
belief into action. We "dream," not "do" the "noble things." The
kindergarten does not fence off a half hour each day for moral
culture, but keeps it in view every moment of every day. Yet it is
never obtrusive; for the mental faculties are being addressed at the
same time, and the body strengthened for its special work.
With the methods generally practiced in the family and school, I fail
to see how we can expect any more delicate sense of right and wrong,
any clearer realization of duty, any greater enlightenment of
conscience, any higher conception of truth, than we now find in the
world. I care not what view you take of humanity, whether you have
Calvinistic tendencies and believe in the total depravity of infants,
or whether you are a disciple of Wordsworth and apostrophize the child
"Mighty prophet! Seer blest,
On whom those truths do rest
Which we are toiling all our lives to find;"
if you are a fair-minded man or woman, and have had much experience
with young children, you will be compelled to confess that they
generally have a tolerably clear sense of right and wrong, needing
only gentle guidance to choose the right when it is put before them. I
say most, not all, children; for some are poor, blurred human scrawls,
blotted all over with the mistakes of other people. And how do we
treat this natural sense of what is true and good, this willingness
to choose good rather than evil, if it is made even the least bit
comprehensible and attractive? In various ways, all equally dull,
blind, and vicious. If we look at the downright ethical significance
of the methods of training and discipline in many families and
schools, we see that they are positively degrading. We appoint more
and more "monitors" instead of training the "inward monitor" in each
child, make truth-telling difficult instead of easy, punish trivial
and grave offenses about in the same way, practice open bribery by
promising children a few cents a day to behave themselves, and weaken
their sense of right by giving them picture cards for telling the
truth and credits for doing the most obvious duty. This has been
carried on until we are on the point of needing another Deluge and a
Is it strange that we find the moral sense blunted, the conscience
unenlightened? The moral climate with which we surround the child is
so hazy that the spiritual vision grows dimmer and dimmer,—and
small wonder! Upon this solid mass of ignorance and stupidity it is
difficult to make any impression; yet I suppose there is greater
joy in heaven over a cordial "thwack" at it than over most blows at
The kindergarten attempts a rational, respectful treatment of
children, leading them to do right as much as possible for right's
sake, abjuring all rewards save the pleasure of working for others and
the delight that follows a good action, and all punishments save
those that follow as natural penalties of broken laws,—the obvious
consequences of the special bit of wrong-doing, whatever it may be.
The child's will is addressed in such a way as to draw it on, if
right; to turn it willingly, if wrong. Coercion in the sense of fear,
personal magnetism, nay, even the child's love for the teacher, may
be used in such a way as to weaken his moral force. With every free,
conscious choice of right, a human being's moral power and strength of
character increase; and the converse of this is equally true.
If the child is unruly in play, he leaves the circle and sits or
stands by himself, a miserable, lonely unit until he feels again in
sympathy with the community. If he destroys his work, he unites the
tattered fragments as best he may, and takes the moral object lesson
home with him. If he has neglected his own work, he is not given the
joy of working for others. If he does not work in harmony with his
companions, a time is chosen when he will feel the sense of isolation
that comes from not living in unity with the prevailing spirit of good
will. He can have as much liberty as is consistent with the liberty
of other people, but no more. If we could infuse the spirit of this
kind of discipline into family and school life, making it systematic
and continuous from the earliest years, there would be fewer morally
"slack-twisted" little creatures growing up into inefficient,
bloodless manhood and womanhood. It would be a good deal of trouble;
but then, life is a good deal of trouble anyway, if you come to that.
We cannot expect to swallow the universe like a pill, and travel on
through the world "like smiling images pushed from behind."
Blind obedience to authority is not in itself moral. It is necessary
as a part of government. It is necessary in order that we may save
children dangers of which they know nothing. It is valuable also as
a habit. But I should never try to teach it by the story of that
inspired idiot, the boy who "stood on the burning deck, whence all
but him had fled," and from whence he would have fled if his mental
endowment had been that of ordinary boys. For obedience must not
be allowed to destroy common sense and the feeling of personal
responsibility for one's own actions. Our task is to train
responsible, self-directing agents, not to make soldiers.
Virtue thrives in a bracing moral atmosphere, where good actions are
taken rather as a matter of course. The attempt to instill an idea of
self-government into the tiny slips of humanity that find their way
into the kindergarten is useful, and infinitely to be preferred to the
most implicit obedience to arbitrary command. In the one case, we may
hope to have, some time or other, an enlightened will and conscience
struggling after the right, failing often, but rising superior to
failure, because of an ever stronger joy in right and shame for wrong.
In the other, we have a "good goose" who does the right for the
picture card that is set before him,—a "trained dog" sort of child,
who will not leap through the hoop unless he sees the whip or the lump
of sugar. So much for the training of the sense of right and wrong!
Now for the provision which the kindergarten makes for the growth of
certain practical virtues, much needed in the world, but touched upon
all too lightly in family and school.
The student of political economy sees clearly enough the need of
greater thrift and frugality in the nation; but where and when do we
propose to develop these virtues? Precious little time is given to
them in most schools, for their cultivation does not yet seem to be
insisted upon as an integral part of the scheme. Here and there an
inspired human being seizes on the thought that the child should
really be taught how to live at some time between the ages of six and
sixteen, or he may not learn so easily afterward. Accordingly, the
pupils under the guidance of that particular person catch a glimpse of
eternal verities between the printed lines of their geographies and
grammars. The kindergarten makes the growth of every-day virtues so
simple, so gradual, even so easy, that you are almost beguiled into
thinking them commonplace. They seem to come in, just by the way, as
it were, so that at the end of the day you have seen thought and
word and deed so sweetly mingled that you marvel at the "universal
dovetailedness of things," as Dickens puts it. They will flourish
better in the school, too, when the cheerful hum of labor is heard
there for a little while each day. The kindergarten child has "just
enough" strips for his weaving mat,—none to lose, none to destroy;
just enough blocks in each of his boxes, and every one of them, he
finds, is required to build each simple form. He cuts his square of
paper into a dozen crystal-shaped bits, and behold! each one of these
tiny flakes is needed to make a symmetrical figure. He has been
careless in following directions, and his form of folded paper does
not "come out" right. It is not even, and it is not beautiful. The
false step in the beginning has perpetuated itself in each succeeding
one, until at the end either partial success or complete failure
meets his eye. How easy here to see the relation of cause to effect!
"Courage!" says the kindergartner; "better fortune next time, for we
will take greater pains." "Can you rub out the ugly, wrong creases?"
"We will try. Alas, no! Wrong things are not so easily rubbed out, are
they?" "Use your worsted quite to the end, dear: it costs money." "Let
us save all the crumbs from our lunch for the birds, children; do not
drop any on the floor: it will only make work for somebody else."
And so on, to the end of the busy, happy day. How easy it is in the
kindergarten, how seemingly difficult later on! It seems to be only
books afterward; and "books are good enough in their own way, but they
are a mighty bloodless substitute for life."
The most superficial observer values the industrial side of the
kindergarten, because it falls directly in line with the present
effort to make some manual training a part of school work; but twenty
or twenty-five years ago, when the subject was not so popular,
kindergarten children were working away at their pretty, useful
tasks,—tiny missionaries helping to show the way to a truth now fully
recognized. As to the value of leading children to habits of industry
as early in life as may be, that they may see the dignity and
nobleness of labor, and conceive of their individual responsibilities
in this world of action, that is too obvious to dwell upon at this
To Froebel, life, action, and knowledge were the three notes of one
harmonious chord; but he did not advocate manual training merely that
children might be kept busy, nor even that technical skill might be
acquired. The piece of finished kindergarten work is only a symbol of
something more valuable which the child has acquired in doing it.
The first steps in all the kindergarten occupations are directed or
suggested by the teacher; but these dictations or suggestions are
merely intended to serve as a sort of staff, by which the child can
steady himself until he can walk alone. It is always the creative
instinct that is to be reached and vivified: everything else is
secondary. By reproduction from memory of a dictated form, by taking
from or adding to it, by changing its centre, corners, or sides,—by a
dozen ingenious preliminary steps,—the child's inventive faculty is
developed; and he soon reaches a point in drawing, building, modeling,
or what not, where his greatest delight is to put his individual ideas
into visible shape. The simple request, "Make something pretty of your
own," brings a score of original combinations and designs,—either the
old thoughts in different shape or something fresh and audacious which
hints of genius. Instead of twenty hackneyed and slavish copies of
one pattern, we have twenty free, individual productions, each the
expression of the child's inmost personal thought. This invests labor
with a beauty and power, and confers upon it a dignity, to be gained
in no other way. It makes every task, however lowly, a joy, because
all the higher faculties are brought into action. Much so-called "busy
work," where pupils of the "A class" are allowed to stick a thousand
pegs in a thousand holes while the "B class" is reciting arithmetic,
is quite fruitless, because it has so little thought behind it.
Unless we have a care, manual training, when we have succeeded in
getting it into the school, may become as mechanical and unprofitable
as much of our mind training has been, and its moral value thus
largely missed. The only way to prevent it is to borrow a suggestion
from Froebel. Then, and only then, shall we have insight with power
of action, knowledge with practice, practice with the stamp of
individuality. Then doing will blossom into being, and "Being is the
mother of all the little doings as well as of the grown-up deeds and
The kindergarten succeeds in getting these interesting and valuable
free productions from children of four or five years only by
developing, in every possible way, the sense of beauty and harmony and
order. We know that people assume, somewhat at least, the color of
their surroundings; and, if the sense of beauty is to grow, we must
give it something to feed upon.
The kindergarten tries to provide a room, more or less attractive,
quantities of pictures and objects of interest, growing plants and
vines, vases of flowers, and plenty of light, air, and sunshine. A
canary chirps in one corner, perhaps; and very likely there will be
a cat curled up somewhere, or a forlorn dog which has followed the
children into this safe shelter. It is a pretty, pleasant, domestic
interior, charming and grateful to the senses. The kindergartner
looks as if she were glad to be there, and the children are generally
smiling. Everybody seems alive. The work, lying cosily about, is neat,
artistic, and suggestive. The children pass out of their seats to the
cheerful sound of music, and are presently joining in an ideal sort of
game, where, in place of the mawkish sentimentality of "Sally Walker,"
of obnoxious memory, we see all sorts of healthful, poetic, childlike
fancies woven into song. Rudeness is, for the most part, banished. The
little human butterflies and bees and birds flit hither and thither
in the circle; the make-believe trees hold up their branches, and the
flowers their cups; and everybody seems merry and content. As they
pass out the door, good-bys and bows and kisses are wafted backward
into the room; for the manners of polite society are observed in
You draw a deep breath. This is a real kindergarten, and it is like
a little piece of the millennium. "Everything is so very pretty and
charming," says the visitor. Yes, so it is. But all this color,
beauty, grace, symmetry, daintiness, delicacy, and refinement, though
it seems to address and develop the aesthetic side of the child's
nature, has in reality a very profound ethical significance. We have
all seen the preternatural virtue of the child who wears her best
dress, hat, and shoes on the same august occasion. Children are tidier
and more careful in a dainty, well-kept room. They treat pretty
materials more respectfully than ugly ones. They are inclined to be
ashamed, at least in a slight degree, of uncleanliness, vulgarity,
and brutality, when they see them in broad contrast with beauty and
harmony and order. For the most part, they try "to live up to" the
place in which they find themselves. There is some connection between
manners and morals. It is very elusive and, perhaps, not very deep;
but it exists. Vice does not flourish alike in all conditions and
localities, by any means. An ignorant negro was overheard praying,
"Let me so lib dat when I die I may hab manners, dat I may know what
to say when I see my heabenly Lord!" Well, I dare say we shall need
good manners as well as good morals in heaven; and the constant
cultivation of the one from right motives might give us an unexpected
impetus toward the other. If the systematic development of the sense
of beauty and order has an ethical significance, so has the happy
atmosphere of the kindergarten an influence in the same direction.
I have known one or two "solid men" and one or two predestinate
spinsters who said that they didn't believe children could accomplish
anything in the kindergarten, because they had too good a time. There
is something uniquely vicious about people who care nothing for
children's happiness. That sense of the solemnity of mortal conditions
which has been indelibly impressed upon us by our Puritan ancestors
comes soon enough, Heaven knows! Meanwhile, a happy childhood is an
unspeakably precious memory. We look back upon it and refresh our
tired hearts with the vision when experience has cast a shadow over
the full joy of living.
The sunshiny atmosphere of a good kindergarten gives the young human
plants an impulse toward eager, vigorous growth. Love's warmth
surrounds them on every side, wooing their sweetest possibilities into
life. Roots take a firmer grasp, buds form, and flowers bloom where,
under more unfriendly conditions, bare stalks or pale leaves would
greet the eye,—pathetic, unfulfilled promises,—souls no happier
for having lived in the world, the world no happier because of their
living. "Virtue kindles at the touch of joy." The kindergarten takes
this for one of its texts, and does not breed that dismal fungus of
the mind "which disposes one to believe that the pursuit of knowledge
must necessarily be disagreeable."
The social phase of the kindergarten is most interesting to the
student of social economics. Coöperative work is strongly emphasized;
and the child is inspired both to live his own full life, and yet to
feel that his life touches other lives at every point,—"for we are
members one of another." It is not the unity of the "little birds," in
the couplet, who "agree" in their "little nests," because "they'd
fall out if they didn't," but a realization, in embryo, of the divine
principle that no man liveth to himself.
As to specifically religious culture, everything fosters the spirit
out of which true religion grows.
In the morning talks, when the children are most susceptible and ready
to "be good," as they say, their thoughts are led to the beauty of the
world about them, the pleasure of right doing, the sweetness of
kind thoughts and actions, the loveliness of truth, patience, and
helpfulness, and the goodness of the Creator to all created things.
No parent, of whatever creed or lack of creed, whether a bigot or
unbeliever, could object to the kind of religious instruction given in
the kindergarten; and yet in every possible way the child-soul and the
child-heart are directed towards everything that is pure and holy,
true and steadfast.
If the child love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love
God whom he hath not seen? "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor,
therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." There is a vast deal of
practical religion to be breathed into these little children of the
street before the abstractions of beliefs can be comprehended. They
cannot live on words and prayers and texts, the thought and feeling
must come before the expression. As Mrs. Whitney says, "The world is
determined to vaccinate children with religion for fear they should
take it in the natural way."
Some wise sayings of the good Dr. Holland, in "Nicholas Minturn,"
come to me as I write. Nicholas says, in discussing this matter of
charities, and the various means of effecting a radical cure of
pauperism, rather than its continual alleviation: "If you read the
parable of the Sower, I think that you will find that soil is quite as
necessary as seed—indeed, that the seed is thrown away unless a
soil is prepared in advance…. I believe in religion, but before I
undertake to plant it, I would like something to plant it in. The
sowers are too few, and the seed is too precious to be thrown away and
lost among the thorns and stones."
Last, but by no means least, the admirable physical culture that goes
on in the kindergarten is all in the right direction. Physiologists
know as much about morality as ministers of the gospel. The vices
which drag men and women into crime spring as often from unhealthy
bodies as from weak wills and callous consciences. Vile fancies and
sensual appetites grow stronger and more terrible when a feeble
physique and low vitality offer no opposing force. Deadly vices are
nourished in the weak, diseased bodies that are penned, day after day,
in filthy, crowded tenements of great cities. If we could withdraw
every three-year-old child from these physically enfeebling and
morally brutalizing influences, and give them three or four hours a
day of sunshine, fresh air, and healthy physical exercise, we should
be doing humanity an inestimable service, even if we attempted nothing
I have tried, as briefly as I might in justice to the subject, to
emphasize the following points:—
I. That we must act up to our convictions with regard to the value of
preventive work. If we are ever obliged to choose, let us save the
II. That the relation of the kindergarten to social reform is simply
that, as a plan of education, it offers us valuable suggestions in
regard to the mental, moral, and physical culture of children, which,
in view of certain crying evils of the day, we should do well to
The essential features of the kindergarten which bear a special
relation to the subject are as follows:—
1. The symmetrical development of the child's powers, considering him
neither as all mind, all soul, nor all body; but as a creature capable
of devout feeling, clear thinking, noble doing.
2. The attempt to make so-called "moral culture" a little less
immoral; the rational method of discipline, looking to the growth of
moral, self-directing power in the child,—the only proper discipline
for future citizens of a free republic.
3. The development of certain practical virtues, the lack of which
is endangering the prosperity of the nation; namely, economy thrift,
temperance, self-reliance, frugality industry, courtesy, and all
the sober host,—none of them drawing-room accomplishments and
consequently in small demand.
4. The emphasis placed upon manual training, especially in its
development of the child's creative activity.
5. The training of the sense of beauty, harmony, and order; its
ethical as well as aesthetical significance.
6. The insistence upon the moral effect of happiness; joy the
favorable climate of childhood.
7. The training of the child's social nature; an attempt to teach the
brotherhood of man as well as the Fatherhood of God.
8. The realization that a healthy body has almost as great an
influence on morals as a pure mind.
I do not say that the consistent practice of these principles will
bring the millennium in the twinkling of an eye, but I do affirm
that they are the thought-germs of that better education which shall
prepare humanity for the new earth over which shall arch the new
Ruskin says, "Crime can only be truly hindered by letting no man
grow up a criminal, by taking away the will to commit sin!" But, you
object, that is sheer impossibility. It does seem so, I confess,
and yet, unless you are willing to think that the whole plan of an
Omnipotent Being is to be utterly overthrown, set aside, thwarted,
then you must believe this ideal possible, somehow, sometime.
I know of no better way to grow towards it than by living up to the
kindergarten idea, that just as we gain intellectual power by doing
intellectual work, and the finest aesthetic feeling by creating
beauty, so shall we win for ourselves the power of feeling nobly and
willing nobly by doing "noble things."
HOW SHALL WE GOVERN OUR CHILDREN?
"Not the cry," says a Chinese author, "but the rising of a wild duck,
impels the flock to follow him in upward flight."
Long ago, in a far-off country, a child was born; and when his parents
looked on him they loved him, and they resolved in their simple hearts
to make of him a strong, brave, warlike man. But the God of that
country was a hungry and an insatiable God, and he cried out for human
sacrifice; so, when his arms had been thrice heated till they glowed
red with the flame of the fire, the mother cradled her child in them,
and his life exhaled as a vapor.
A child was born in another country, and the tender eyes of his mother
saw that his limbs were misshapen and his life-blood a sickly current.
Yet her heart yearned over him, and she would have tended and trained
him and loved him better than all the rest of her strong, well-favored
brood; but when the elders of her people knew that the child was a
weakling, they decreed that he should die, and she bent her head to
the law, which was stronger than her love.
In a third land a child was to be born, and the proud father made
ready gifts, and purchased silken robes, and prepared a feast for his
friends; but, alas! when the longed-for soul entered the world it was
housed in a woman-child's body, and straightway the joy was changed
into mourning. Bitter reproaches were heaped upon the mother, for were
there not enough women already on the earth? and the fiat went forth
that the babe should straightway be delivered from the trials of
existence. So, while its hold on life was yet uncertain, the husband's
mother placed wet cloths upon its lips, and soon the faint breath
stopped, and the white soul went fluttering heavenward again.
In still another of God's fair lands a child entered the world, and he
grew toward manhood vigorous and lusty; but he heeded not his parents'
commands, and when his disobedience had been long continued, the
fathers of the tribe decreed that he should be stoned to death, for so
it was written in the sacred books. And as the youth was the absolute
property of his parents, and as by common consent they had full
liberty to deal with him as seemed good to them, they consented unto
his death, that his soul might be saved alive, and the evening sun
shone crimson on his dead body as it lay upon the sands of the desert.
* * * * *
At a later day and in a Christian country two children were born, one
hundred years apart, and the world had now so far progressed that
absolute power over the life of the offspring was denied the parents.
The one was ruled with iron rods; he was made to obey with a rigidity
of compliance and a severity of treatment in case of failure which
made obedience a slavish duty, and he was taught besides that he was a
child of Satan and an heir of hell. He found no joy in his youth, and
his miserable soul groveled in fear of the despot who dominated him,
and of the blazing eternity which he was told would be the punishment
for his sins. His will was broken; he was made weak where he might
have been strong; and he did evil because he had learned no power of
self-restraint: yet his people loved him, and they had done all these
things because they wished to purge him wholly from all uncleanness.
The parents of the other child were warned of the lamentable results
of this gloomy training, and they said one to another: "Our darling
shall be free as air; his duties shall be made to seem like pleasures,
or, better still, he shall have no duty but his pleasure. He shall
do only what he wills, that his will may grow strong, and he can but
choose the right, for he knows no evil. We will hold up before him no
bugbear of future punishment, for doubtless there is no such thing;
and if there be, it will not be meted out to such a child. He will
love and obey his parents because they have devoted themselves to his
happiness, and because they have never imposed distasteful obligations
upon him, and when he grows to manhood he will be a model of wisdom
and of goodness."
But, lo! the child of this training was as great a failure as the
child of austerity and gloom. He was capricious, lawless, willful,
disobedient, passionate; he thought of no one's pleasure save his own;
he cared for his parents only in so far as they could be of use to
him; and like a wild beast of the jungle he preyed upon the life
around him, and cared not whom he destroyed if his appetites were
"In every field of opinion and action, men are found swinging from
one extreme to the other of life's manifold arcs of vibration." This
perpetual movement may be the essential condition of existence, for
death is cessation of motion; or it may be a never-ending effort of
the mind to reach an ideal which discloses itself so seldom as to make
its permanent abiding-place a matter of uncertainty. Doubtless there
is somewhere a middle to the arc, and in the lapse of ages the needle
may at last find the "pole-point of central truth" and be at rest; but
as yet, in every department of labor and thought, it is vibrating, and
after tarrying a while at one extreme it swings unsatisfied back to
Nowhere are these extremes more noticeable than in the government of
children. Centuries ago, in the patriarchal period, the father of the
family seems also to have exercised the functions of a criminal judge;
but the uniting of the two sets of duties in one person does not
appear to have inspired the children with insurmountable awe, for
laws are found both in Numbers and Deuteronomy fixing the penalty of
disobedience, and of the striking of a parent by a child.
Still later, the Roman father possessed arbitrary powers of life and
death over his children; but it is probable that natural affection and
a more advanced civilization commonly made the law a dead letter.
Though the world in time grew to feel that life belonged to the being
who held it, not to those who gave it birth, still discipline has for
ages been directed more to the body than to the mind, with an idea
apparently that the pains of the flesh will save the soul. Pious
parents until within recent dates have regarded the flogging of
children as absolutely a religious obligation, and many a tender
mother has steeled her heart and strengthened her arm to give the
blows which she regarded as essential to the spiritual well-being of
The birch rod and the Bible were the Parents' Complete Guide to
domestic management in Puritan days, and no one can deny that this
treatment, though rather a heroic one, seems to have produced fine,
strong, self-denying men and women.
Governor Bradford, in 1648, speaks feelingly of the godliness of a
Puritan woman whose office it was to "sit in a convenient place in
the congregation, with a little birchen rod in her hand, and keep
the children in great awe;" and, from the frequency with which
chastisement is mentioned in early Puritan records, it seems pretty
clear that the sober little lads and lasses of the day did not suffer
When this wholesale whipping began to fall into disuse, many
philosophers prophesied the ruin of the race, but these gloomy
predictions have scarcely found their fulfillment as yet.
There has been, however, a colossal change in discipline, from the
days when disobedience was punishable with death to the agreeable
moral suasion of the nineteenth century, as exemplified in the "fin de
siècle" nonsense rhyme:—
"There once was a hopeful young horse
Who was brought up on love, without force:
He had his own way, and they sugared his hay;
So he never was naughty, of course."
The results of this delightful method of treatment seem rather
problematic, and the modern child is universally acknowledged to be no
improvement upon his predecessors in point of respect and filial piety
A superintendent's report, written thirty years ago for one of the New
England States, regrets that, even then, home government had grown
lax. He wittily says that Young America is rampant, parental
influence couchant; and no reversal of these positions is as yet
visible in 1892.
To those who note the methods by which many children are managed, it
is a matter of wonderment that the results in character and conduct
are not very much worse than they are. Dr. Channing wisely says, "The
hope of the world lies in the fact that parents cannot make of
their children what they will." Happy accidents of association and
circumstance sometimes nullify the harm the parent has done, and the
tremendous momentum of the race-tendency carries the child over many
an obstacle which his training has set in his path.
It seems crystal-clear at the outset that you cannot govern a child if
you have never learned to govern yourself. Plato said, many centuries
ago: "The best way of training the young is to train yourself at the
same time; not to admonish them, but to be always carrying out your
own principles in practice," and all the wisdom of the ancients is in
the thought. If, then, you are a fit person to be trusted with the
government of a child, what goal do you propose to reach in your
discipline; what is your aim, your ideal?
1. The discipline should be thoroughly in harmony with child-nature in
general, and suited to the age and development of the particular child
2. It should appeal to the higher motives, and to the higher motives
3. It should develop kindness, helpfulness, and sympathy.
4. It should never use weapons which would tend to lower the child's
5. It should be thoroughly just, and the punishment, or rather the
retribution, should be commensurate with the offense.
6. It should teach respect for law, and for the rights of others.
Finally, it should teach "voluntary obedience, the last lesson in
life, the choral song which rises from all elements and all angels,"
and, as the object of true discipline is the formation of character,
it should produce a human being master of his impulses, his passions,
and his will.
The journey's end being fixed, one must next decide what route will
reach it, and will be short, safe, economical, and desirable; and the
roads to the presumably ideal discipline are many and well-traveled.
Some of them, it is true, lead you into a swamp, some to the edge of
a precipice; some will hurl you down a mountain-side with terrific
rapidity; others stop half-way, bringing you face to face with a blank
wall; and others again will lose you entirely on a bleak and trackless
plain. But no matter which route you select, you will have the wise
company of a great many teachers, parents, and guardians, and an
innumerable throng of fair and lovely children will journey by your
The road of threat and fear, of arbitrary and over-severe punishment,
has been much traveled in all times, though perhaps it is a little
The child who obeys you merely because he fears punishment is a slave
who cowers under the lash of the despot. Undue severity makes him a
liar and a coward. He hates his master, he hates the thing he is made
to do; there is a bitter sense of injustice, a seething passion of
revenge, forever within him; and were he strong enough he would rise
and destroy the power that has crushed him. He has done right because
he was forced to do so, not because he desired it; and since the
right-doing, the obedience, was neither the fruit of his reason nor
his love, it cannot be permanent.
The feeling of justice is strong in the child's mind, and you have
constantly wounded that feeling. You have destroyed the sense of cause
and effect by your arbitrary punishments. You have corrected him for
disobedience, for carelessness, for unkindness, for untruthfulness,
for noisiness, and for slowness in learning his lessons.
How is he to know which of these offenses is the greatest, if all have
received the same punishment? Why should giving him a good thrashing
teach him to be kind to his little sister? Why should he learn the
multiplication table with greater rapidity because you ferule him
soundly? Have you ever found pain an assistance to the memory?
If he has little intellectual perception of the difference between
truth and falsehood, why should you suppose that smart strokes on any
portion of the body would quicken that perception?
Is it not clear as the sun at noonday that, since he observes the
punishment to have no necessary relation to the offense, and since he
observes it to be light or severe according to your pleasure,—is it
not clear that he will suppose you to be using your superior strength
in order to treat him unfairly, and will not the supposition sow seeds
of hatred and rebellion in his heart?
Another road to discipline is that of bribery.
To endeavor to secure goodness in a child by means of bribery, to
promise him a reward in case he obeys you, is manifestly an absurdity.
You are destroying the very traits in his character you are presumably
endeavoring to build up. You are educating a human being who knows
good from evil, and who should be taught deliberately to choose the
right for the right's sake, who should do his duty because he knows
it to be his duty, not for any extraneous reward connected with it.
A spiritual reward will follow, nevertheless, in the feeling of
happiness engendered, and the child may early be led to find his
satisfaction in this, and in the approval of those he loves.
There are, of course, certain simple rewards which can be used with
safety, and which the child easily sees to be the natural results of
good conduct. If his treatment of the household pussy has been kind
and gentle, he may well be trusted with a pet of his own; if he puts
his toys away carefully when asked to do so, father will notice the
neat room when he comes home; if he learns his lessons well and
quickly, he will have the more time to work in the garden; and the
suggestion of these natural consequences is legitimate and of good
It is always safer, no doubt, to appeal to a love of pleasure in
children than to a fear of pain, yet bribes and extraneous rewards
inevitably breed selfishness and corruption, and lead the child
to expect conditions in life which will never be realized. Though
retribution of one kind or another follows quickly on the heels of
wrong-doing, yet virtue is commonly its own reward, and it is as well
that the child should learn this at the beginning of life. Froebel
says: "Does a simple, natural child, when acting rightly, think of
any other reward which he might receive for his action than this
consciousness, though that reward be only praise?…
"How we degrade and lower the human nature which we should raise, how
we weaken those whom we should strengthen, when we hold up to them an
inducement to act virtuously!"
Emulation is often harnessed into service to further intellectual
progress and the formation of right habits of conduct, and this
inevitably breeds serious evils.
It is well to set before the child an ideal on which he may form
himself as far as possible; but when this ideal sits across the aisle,
plays in a neighboring back yard, or, worse still, is another child
in the same family, he is hated and despised. His virtues become
obnoxious, and the unfortunate evildoer prefers to be vicious, that
he may not resemble a creature whose praises have so continually been
sung that his very name is odious.
If the child grows accustomed to the comparison of himself with others
and the endeavor to excel them, he becomes selfish, envious, and
either vain of his virtue and attainments, or else thoroughly
disheartened at his small success, while he grudges that of his
neighbor. George Macdonald says: "No work noble or lastingly good can
come of emulation, any more than of greed. I think the motives are
spiritually the same."
To what can we appeal, then, in children, as motives to goodness, as
aids in the formation of right habits of thought and action? Ah! the
child's heart is a harp of many strings, and touched by the hand of a
master a fine, clear tone will sound from every one of them, while the
resultant strain will be a triumphant burst of glorious harmony.
Touch delicately the string of love of approval, and listen to the
The child delights to work for you, to please you if he can, to do
his tasks well enough to win your favorable notice, and the breath of
praise is sweet to his nostrils. It is right and justifiable that
he should have this praise, and it will be an aid to his spiritual
development, if bestowed with discrimination. Only Titanic strength of
character can endure constant discouragement and failure, and yet work
steadily onward, and the weak, undeveloped human being needs a word of
approval now and then to show him that he is on the right track, and
that his efforts are appreciated. Of course the kind and the frequency
of the praise bestowed depend entirely upon the nature of the child.
One timid, self-distrustful temperament needs frequently to bask in
the sunshine of your approval, while another, somewhat predisposed to
vanity and self-consciousness, feeds a more bracing moral climate.
There is no question that cleanliness and fresh air may be considered
as minor aids to goodness, and a dangerous outbreak of insubordination
may sometimes be averted by hastily suggesting to the little rebel a
run in the garden, prefaced by a thorough application of cool water
to the flushed face and little clenched hands; while self-respect may
often be restored by the donning of a clean apron.
Beauty of surroundings is another incentive to harmony of action. It
is easier for the child to be naughty in a poor, gloomy room, scanty
of furniture, than in a garden gay with flowers, shaded by full-leafed
trees, and made musical by the voice of running water.
Dr. William T. Harris says: "Beauty cannot create a new heart, but it
can greatly change the disposition," and this seems unquestionable,
especially with regard to the glory of God's handiwork, which makes
goodness seem "the natural way of living." Yet we would not wish our
children to be sybarites, and we must endeavor to cultivate in their
breasts a hardy plant of virtue which will live, if need be, on Alpine
heights and feed on scanty fare.
It is a truism that interesting occupation prevents dissension, and
that idle fingers are the Devil's tools.
A child who is good and happy during school time, with its regular
hours and alternated work and play, often becomes, in vacation,
fretful, sulky, discontented, and in arms against the entire world.
The discipline of work, if of a proper kind, of a kind in which
success is not too long delayed, is sure and efficacious. Success, if
the fruit of one's own efforts, is so sweet that one longs for more of
the work which produced it.
The reverse of the medal may be seen here also. The knotted thread
which breaks if pulled too impatiently; the dropped stitches that make
rough, uneven places in the pattern; the sail which was wrongly placed
and will not propel the boat; the pile of withered leaves which was
not removed, and which the wind scattered over the garden,—are
not all these concrete moral lessons in patience, accuracy, and
We may safely appeal to public opinion, sometimes, in dealing with
children. The chief object in doing this "is to create a constantly
advancing ideal toward which the child is attracted, and thereby
to gain a constantly increasing effort on his part to realize this
ideal." There comes a time in the child's development when he begins
to realize his own individuality, and longs to see it recognized by
others. The views of life, the sentiments of the people about him,
are clearly noted, and he desires to so shape his conduct as to be
in harmony with them. If he sees that tale-bearing and cowardice are
looked upon with disgust by his comrades, he will be a very Spartan in
his laconicism and courage; if his father and older brothers can bear
pain without wincing, then he will not cry when he hurts himself.
Oftentimes he is obdurate when reproved in private for a fault, but
when brought to the tribunal of the disapproval of other children, he
is chagrined, repents, and makes atonement. He is uneasy under the
adverse verdict of a large company, but the condemnation of one person
did not weigh with him. It is usually not wise, however, to appeal to
public opinion in this way, save on an abstract question, as the child
loses his self-respect, and becomes degraded in his own eyes, if his
fault is trumpeted abroad.
Stories of brave deeds, poems of heroism, self-sacrifice, and loyalty,
have their places in creating a sentiment of ideality in the child's
breast,—a sentiment which remains fixed sometimes, even though it be
not in harmony with the feeling of the majority.
Now and then some noble soul is born, some hero so thrilled with the
ideal that he rises far above the public sentiment of his day; but
usually we count him great who overtops his fellows by an inch or two,
and he who falls much below the level of ordinary feeling is esteemed
as almost beyond hope.
To seek for the approval of others, even though they embody our
highest ideals, is truly not the loftiest form of aspiration; but it
is one round in the ladder which leads to that higher feeling, the
desire for the benediction of the spirit-principle within us.
Although discipline by means of fear, as the word is commonly used,
cannot be too strongly condemned, yet there is a "godly fear" of which
the Bible speaks, which certainly has its place among incentives in
will-training. The child has not attained as yet, and it is doubtful
whether we ourselves have done so, to that supreme excellence of love
which absolutely casteth out fear.
A writer of great moral insight says: "Has not the law of seed and
flower, cause and effect, the law of continuity which binds the
universe together, a tone of severity? It has surely, like all
righteous law, and carries with it a legitimate and wholesome fear. If
we are to reap what we have sown, some, perhaps most of us, may dread
The child shrinks from the disapproval of the loved parent or teacher.
By so much the more as he reverences and respects those "in authority
over him" does he dread to do that which he knows they would condemn.
If he has been led to expect natural retributions, he will have a
wholesome fear of putting his hand in the fire, since he knows the
inevitable consequences. He understands that it is folly to expect
that wrong can be done with impunity, and shrinks in terror from
committing a sin whose consequences it is impossible that he should
escape. He knows well that there are other punishments save those of
the body, and he has felt the anguish which follows self-condemnation.
"There is nothing degrading in such fear, but a heart-searching
reverence and awe in the sincere and humble conviction that God's law
Such are some of the false and some of the true motives which can be
appealed to in will-training, but there are various points in their
practical application which may well be considered.
May we not question whether we are not frequently too exacting with
children,—too much given to fault-finding? Were it not that the
business of play is so engrossing to them, and life so fascinating a
matter on the whole,—were it not for these qualifying circumstances,
we should harass many of them into dark cynicism and misanthropy at
a very early age. I marvel at the scrupulous exactness in regard to
truth, the fine sense of distinction between right and wrong, which we
require of an unfledged human being who would be puzzled to explain
to us the difference between a "hawk and a handsaw," who lives in the
realm of the imagination, and whose view of the world is that of a
great play-house furnished for his benefit. If we were one half as
punctilious and as hypercritical in our judgment of ourselves, we
should be found guilty in short order, and sentenced to hard labor on
a vast number of counts.
There are many comparatively small faults in children which it is wise
not to see at all. They are mere temporary failings, tiny drops which
will evaporate if quietly left in the sunshine, but which, if opposed,
will gather strength for a formidable current. If we would sometimes
apply Tolstoi's doctrine of non-resistance to children, if we would
overlook the small transgression and quietly supply another vent for
the troublesome activity, there would be less clashing of wills, and
less raising of an evil spirit, which gains wonderful strength while
Do we not often use an arbitrary and a threatening manner in our
commands to children, when a calm, gentle request, in a tone of
expectant confidence, would gain obedience far more quickly and
Some natures are antagonized by the shadow of a threat, even if it
accompanies a reasonable order; and if we acknowledge that the oil of
courtesy is a valuable lubricator in our dealings with grown people,
it seems proper to suppose that it would not be entirely useless
with children. We cannot expect to get from them what we do not give
ourselves, and it is idle to imagine that we can address them as we
would a disobedient dog, and be answered in tones of dulcet harmony.
Again, what possible harm can there be in sometimes giving reasons for
commands, when they are such as the child would appreciate? We do not
desire to bring him up under martial rule; and if he feels the
wisdom of the order issued, he will be much more likely to obey it
pleasantly. Cases may frequently occur in which reasons either could
not properly be given, or would be beyond the child's power of
comprehension; but if our treatment of him has been uniformly frank
and affectionate, he will cheerfully obey, believing that, as our
commands have been reasonable heretofore, there is good cause to
suppose they may still be so.
Educational opinion tends, more and more every day, to the absolute
conviction that the natural punishment, the effect which follows the
cause, is the only one which can safely be used with children.
This is the method of Nature, severe and unrelenting it may be, but
calm, firm, and purely just. He who sows the wind must reap the
whirlwind, and he who sows thistles may be well assured that he will
never gather figs as his harvest. The feeling of continuity, of
sequence, is naturally strong in the child; and if we would lead him
to appreciate that the law is as absolute in the moral as in the
physical world, we shall find the ground already prepared for our
Much transgression of moral law in later years is due to the fatal
hope in the evil-doer's mind that he will be able to escape the
consequences of his sin. Could we make it clear from the beginning of
life that there is no such escape, that the mills of the gods will
grind at last, though the hopper stand empty for many a year,—could
we make this an absolute conviction of the mind, I am assured that it
would greatly tend to lessen crime.
And this is one of the defects of arbitrary punishment, that it is
sometimes withheld when the heart of the judge melts over the sinner,
leading him to expect other possible exemptions in the future. Is it
not sometimes given in anger, also, when the culprit clearly sees it
to be disproportionate to the crime?
Here appears the advantage of the natural punishment,—it is never
withheld in weak affection, it is never given in anger, it is entirely
disassociated from personal feeling. No poisoned arrow of injustice
remains rankling in the child's breast; no rebellious feeling that the
parent has taken advantage of his superior strength to inflict the
punishment: it is perceived to be absolutely fair, and, being fair,
it must be, although painful, yet satisfactory to that sense of
justice which is a passion of childhood.
Our American children are as precocious in will-power as they are
keen-witted, and they need a special discipline. The courage,
activity, and pioneer spirit of the fathers, exercised in hewing their
way through virgin forests, hunting wild beasts in mountain solitudes,
opening up undeveloped lands, prospecting for metals through trackless
plains, choosing their own vocations, helping to govern their
country,—all these things have reacted upon the children, and they
are thoroughly independent, feeling the need of caring for themselves
when hardly able to toddle.
Entrust this precocious bundle of nerves and individuality to a person
of weak will or feeble intelligence, and the child promptly becomes
his ruler. The power of strong volition becomes caprice, he does not
learn the habit of obedience, and thus valuable directive power is
lost to the world.
"The lowest classes of society," says Dr. Harris, "are the lowest,
not because there is any organized conspiracy to keep them down, but
because they are lacking in directive power." The jails, the prisons,
the reformatories, are filled with men who are there because they were
weak, more than because they were evil. If the right discipline in
home and school had been given them, they would never have become the
charge of the nation. Thus we waste force constantly, force of mind
and of spirit sufficient to move mountains, because we do not insist
that every child shall exercise his "inherited right," which is, "that
he be taught to obey."
It is a grave subject, this of will-training, the gravest perhaps that
we can consider, and its deepest waters lie far below the sounding of
my plummet. Some of the principles, however, on which it rests are as
firmly fixed as the bed of the ocean, which remains changeless though
the waves continually shift above:—
1. If we can but cultivate the habit of doing right, we enlist in
our service one of the strongest of human agencies. Its momentum is so
great that it may propel the child into the course of duty before he
has time to discuss the question, or to parley with his conscience
2. We must remember that "force of character is cumulative, and all
the foregone days of virtue work their health into this." The task
need not be begun afresh each morning; yesterday's strokes are still
there, and to-day's efforts will make the carving deeper and bolder.
3. We may compel the body to carry out an order, the fingers to
perform a task; but this is mere slavish compliance. True obedience
can never be enforced; it is the fruit of the reason and the will, the
free, glad offering of the spirit.
4. Though many motives have their place in early will-training,—love
of approval, deference to public opinion, the influence of beauty,
hopeful occupation, respect and rev for those in authority,—yet these
are all preparatory, the preliminary exercises, which must be well
practiced before the soul can spread her wings into the blue.
5. There is but one true and final motive to good conduct, and that
is a hunger in the soul of man for the blessing of the spirit, a
ceaseless longing to be in perfect harmony with the principles of
everlasting and eternal right.
THE MAGIC OF "TOGETHER"
"'Together' is the key-word of the nineteenth century."
It is an old, adobe-walled Mexican garden. All around it, close
against the brown bricks, the fleur-de-lis stand white and stately,
guarded by their tall green lances. The sun's rays are already
powerful, though it is early spring, and I am glad to take my book
under the shade of the orange-trees. In the dark leaf-canopy above me
shine the delicate star-like flowers, the partly opened buds, and the
great golden oranges, while tiny green and half-ripe spheres make a
happy contrast in color. The ground about me is strewn with flowers
and buds, the air is heavy with fragrance, and the bees are buzzing
softly overhead. I am growing drowsy, but as I lift my eyes from my
book they meet something which interests me. A large black ant is
tugging and pulling at an orange-bud, and really making an effort to
carry it away with him. It is once and a half as long as he, fully
twice as wide, and I cannot compute how much heavier, but its size and
weight are very little regarded. He drags it vigorously over Alpine
heights and through valley deeps, but evidently finds the task
arduous, for he stops to rest now and then. I want to help him, but
cannot be sure of his destination, and fear besides that my clumsy
assistance would be misinterpreted.
Ah, how unfortunate! ant and orange-bud have fallen together into
the depths of a Colorado cañon which yawns in the path. The ant soon
reappears, but clearly feels it impossible to drag the bud up such a
precipice, and runs away on some other quest. What did he want with
that bud, I wonder? was it for food, or bric-a-brac, or a plaything
for the babies? Never mind,—I shall never know, and I prepare to read
again. But what's this? Here is my ant returning, and accompanied by
some friends. They disappear in the canon, helpfulness and interest
in every wave of their feelers. Their heads come into sight again,
and—yes! they have the bud. Now, indeed, events move, and the burden
travels rapidly across the smooth courtyard toward the house. Can they
intend to take it up on the flat roof, where we have lately suspected
a nest? Yes, there they go, straight up the wall, all putting their
shoulders to the wheel, and resting now and then in the chinks of the
crumbling adobes. Up the bud moves to the gutters,—I can see it gleam
as it is pulled over the edge,—they are out of sight,—the task is
done! How easy any undertaking, I think, when people are willing to
* * * * *
In a high dormer window of a great city, in a nest of quilts and
pillows, sits little Ingrid. Her blue Danish eyes look out from a
pinched, snow-white face, and her thin hands are languidly folded in
her lap. She gazes far down below to the other side of the square,
where she can just see the waving of some green branches and an open
Her eyes brighten now, for a stream of little children comes pouring
from that door. "Look, mother!" she cries, "there are the children!"
and the mother leaves her washing, and comes with dripping hands to
see every tiny boy look up at the window and flourish his hat, and
every girl wave her handkerchief, or kiss her hand. They form a ring;
there is silence for a moment and then, 'mid great flapping of dingy
handkerchiefs and battered hats, a hearty cheer is heard.
"They're cheering my birthday," cries Ingrid. "Miss Mary knows it's my
birthday. Oh, isn't it lovely!" And the thin hands eagerly waft some
grateful kisses to the group below.
The scene has only lasted a few moments, the children have had their
run in the fresh air, and now they go marching back, pausing at the
door to wave good-by to the window far above. The mother carries
Ingrid back to her bed (it is a weary time now since those little feet
touched the floor); but the bed is not as tiresome as usual, nor the
washing as hard, for both hearts are full of sunshine.
Afternoon comes,—little feet are heard climbing up the stair,
and Ingrid's name is called. The door opens, and two flushed and
breathless messengers stand on the threshold. "We've brung you a
birfday present," they cry; "it's a book, and we made it all our own
se'ves, and all the chilluns helped and made somefin' to put in it.
Miss Mary's down stairs mindin' the babies, and she sends you her
love. Good-by! Happy birfday!"
"Happy birthday" indeed! Golden, precious, love-crowned birthday! Was
ever such a book, so full of sweet messages and tender thoughts!
Ingrid knows how baby Tim must have labored to sew that red circle,
how John Jacob toiled over that weaving-mat, and Elsa carefully folded
the drove of little pigs. Everybody thought of her, and all the
"chilluns" helped, and how dear is the tangible outcome of the
thoughts and the helping!
* * * * *
Far back in the childhood of the world, the long-haired savage,"
woaded, winter-clad in skins," went roaming for his food wherever he
might find it. He dug roots from the ground, he searched for berries
and fruits, he hid behind rocks to leap upon his living prey, yet
often went hungry to his lair at night, if the root-crop were short,
or the wild beast wary.
But if the day had been a fortunate one, if his own stomach were
filled and his body sheltered, little cared he whether long-haired
savage number two were hungry and cold. "Every one for himself," would
he say, as he rolled himself in his skins, "and the cave-bear, or any
other handy beast, take the hindmost." The simplicity of his mental
state, his complete freedom from responsibility, assure us that
his digestion of the raw flesh and the tough roots must have been
perfection, and the sleep in those furred skins a dreamless one.
What impending visitation of a common enemy, what sudden descent of a
fierce horde of strange, wild, long-forgotten creatures, first moved
him to ally himself with barbarians number two and three for their
mutual protection? And when long years of alliance in warfare, and
mutual distrust at all other times, had slipped away, and when savages
were turning into herdsmen and farmers and toolmakers, to what
leader among men did a system of exchange of commodities for mutual
convenience suggest itself?
One would like to have met that painted savage who first suggested
combination in warfare, or that later politico-economist upon whom it
faintly dawned that mutual help was possible in other directions save
that of blood-shedding.
A union born of the exigencies of warfare would be strengthened later
by the promptings of self-interest, and, lo! the experiment is no
longer an experiment, and the fact is proven that men may fight and
work together to their mutual profit and advancement.
'Tis a simple proposition, after all, that ten times one is ten; and
the bees, the ants, the grosbeaks, and the beavers prove it so clearly
that any one of us may read, though we pass by never so quickly. Yet
all great truths appear in man's mind in very rudimentary form at
first, and each successive generation furnishes more favorable soil
for their growth and development.
First, men joined hands in offensive and defensive alliance; second,
they found that, even when wars were over, still communication,
intercourse, and exchange of goods were desirable; third, they
discovered that no great enterprise which would better their condition
would be possible without coöperation; and, fourth, they began to band
themselves together here and there, not only for their own protection,
for their own gain, but to watch over the weak, to succor the
defenseless, and even to uphold some dear belief.
The magic of "Together" has thus far reached, and who can tell what
Happy Valley, what fair Land of Beulah, it may summon into existence
in the future?
The incalculable value of coöperation, the solemn truth that we are
members one of another, that we cannot labor for ourselves without
laboring for others, nor injure ourselves without injuring
others,—all this is intellectually appreciated by most men to-day,
all this is doubtless acknowledged; yet I cannot find that it has
obtained much recognition in education, nor is especially insisted
upon in the training of children.
But surely, if children have any social tendencies,—and the fact
needs no proof,—these tendencies should be given direction from the
beginning toward benevolence, toward harmonious working together for
some common aim. This would be comparatively easy even in a nursery
containing three or four little people; and how much simpler when
school life begins, and when the powers of children are greatly
increased, while they are in hourly contact with a large number of
"Society," as Dr. Hale says, "is the great charm and only value of
school life;" but this charm and this value are reduced to a minimum
in many schools. "Emulation, that devil-shadow of aspiration," so
often used as a stimulus in education, must forever separate the child
from his fellows.
How can I have any Christian fellowship with a man when I am envying
him his successes and grudging him his honors? Am I not tempted
to withhold my help from my weak brother across the way, lest my
assistance place him on an equality with me?
Again, the "monitor" system, as sometimes carried out, tends to
separation and engenders dislike and distrust. I am not likely to
desire close communion, except in the way of fisticuffs, with a boy
who has been spying upon me all day, or who has very likely "reported"
me as having committed divers venial offenses.
It is the idea of some teachers that discipline is furthered if
children are trained to have as little as possible to do with each
other, and there is no question that this method does facilitate
a toe-the-line kind of government. It would probably be more
satisfactory to such a teacher if each child could be brought to
school in a sedan-chair, with only one window and that in front, and
could be kept in it during the whole session.
As such a plan, however, is scarcely feasible; as children, with or
against our wills, have a natural and God-given instinct for each
other's company; as they keenly enjoy banding themselves together for
whatever purpose, should not education follow the suggestions which an
earnest study of child-nature can but give?
Froebel, with those divinely curious eyes of his, saw deeper into the
child's mind and heart than any of his predecessors, and for every
faint stirring of life which he perceived provided adequate conditions
of development. True prophet of the coming day, his philosophy is
rich with suggestions for the cultivation of the social powers of
the child. No one ever felt more keenly than he the inseparable, the
organic connection of all life; and with deep spiritual insight he
provides nursery plays and songs by which the babe, even in his
mother's arms, may be led faintly to recognize in his being one of the
links of the great chain which girdles the universe.
Later, when as a child of three or four years he makes his first step
into the world, and loosing his mother's hand, enters a larger family
of children of his own age, he is still led to feel himself a part
of a vast union, each member of which has ministered to him, and
numberless ways are opened by which he can join with others to give
back to the world some of the benefits he has enjoyed. Stories are
told and games are played which lead him to thank the kindly hands
which have furnished his daily bread, his warm clothing, and his
sweet, white bed at night.
The feeling of gratitude, grown and strengthened, must overflow in
action. The world has done so much for him, what can he do for the
world? Is there not some little invalid who would greatly prize a
book of dainty pictures, embroidered, drawn, and painted by her
child-friends? Then he will join with his companions, and patiently
and lovingly fashion such a book. Is the class room somewhat bare and
colorless? Then he can give up some of his cherished work to make a
bright frieze about the walls.
A national holiday is perhaps approaching. He will unite with all the
other babies in making flags, tri-colored chains, and rosettes to
deck the room appropriately, and to please the mothers, fathers, and
friends who are coming to celebrate the occasion.
One of the greatest pleasures which is offered is that of being
allowed to "help" somebody. If a child is quick, neat, and careful, if
he has finished his bit of work, he may go and help the babies, and
very gently and very patiently he guides the chubby fingers, threads
the needles, or ties on little caps, and conquers refractory buttons.
To be a "little helper," whether he is assisting his companions or the
grown-up people about him, grows to seem the highest honor within his
reach. He knows the joy of ministering unto others, and he feels that
"to help is to do the work of the world."
Thus we endeavor to give external expression to the feelings stirring
in the heart of the child, knowing that "even love can grow cold" if
not nourished. The whole spirit of the work, if carried out as Froebel
intended, must tend directly toward social evolution, and the intense
personalism which is a distinguishing mark of our civilization, and
is clearly seen in our children, needs anointing with the oil of
The circle in which the children stand for the singing is itself a
perfect representation of unity. Hands are joined to make a "round and
lovely ring." If any child is unkind, or regardless of the rights of
others, it is easily seen that he not only makes himself unhappy, but
seriously mars the pleasure of all the other children. If he willfully
leaves the circle, a link in the chain is broken which can only be
mended when he repents his folly and pleasantly returns to his place.
Thus early he may be made to feel that all lives touch his own, and
that his indulgence in selfish passion not only harms himself, but is
the more blameworthy in that it injures others.
The songs and games cannot be happily carried on unless each child
is not only willing to help, but willing also to give up his chief
desires now and then. All the children would like to be the flowers in
the garden, perhaps, but it is obvious that some must remain in the
circle, in order that the fence be perfect, and prevent stray animals
from destroying what we love and cherish. So there is constant
surrendering of personal desires in recognition of the fact that
others have equal rights, and that, after all, one part is as good as
another, since all are essential to the whole.
In coöperative building, the children quickly see that the symmetrical
figure which four little ones have made together, uniting their
material, is infinitely larger and finer than any one of them could
have made alone. If they are making a village at their little tables,
one builds the church, another workshops and stores, others schools
and houses, while the remainder make roads, lay out gardens, plant
trees, and plough the fields. No one of the children had strength
enough, time enough, or material enough to build the village alone,
yet see how well and how quickly it is done when we all help!
The sand-box, in which of course all children delight, lends itself
especially to coöperative exercises. They gather around it and plant
gardens with the bright-colored balls; they use it for geography,
moulding the hills, mountains, valleys, and tracing the rivers near
their homes; they arrange historical dramas, as "Paul Revere's Ride,"
or the "Landing of the Pilgrims:" but no child does any one of these
things alone; there is constant and happy coöperation.
It is the aim of one day's exercise, perhaps, to retrace with the
child the various steps by which his comfortable chair and his strong
work-table have come to him.
Across one end of the sand-box, a group of children plant a forest
with little pine branches which they have brought. The wood-cutters
come, fell the trees, and cut away the boughs. Another party
of children bring the heavy teams, previously built from the
play-material, harness in the horses (taken from a Noah's Ark), and
prepare to carry off the logs. Now here come the road-makers, and they
lay out a smooth, hard road for the teams, reaching to the very bank
of the river, which another party of little ones has made. The logs
are tumbled into the stream; they float downward, are rafted, carried
to the mill; little sticks are furnished to represent the boards into
which they are sawn; and the lumber is taken to the cabinet-maker,
that he may fashion our furniture.
Though there be twenty children around the sand-box, yet all have been
employed. Each has enjoyed his own work, yet appreciated the value of
his neighbor's. They have worked together harmoniously and the doing
has reacted upon the heart, and strengthened the feeling of unity
which is growing within.
Such exercises cannot fail to teach the value and power of social
effort, and the necessity of subordinating personal desires to the
common good. Yet the development of individuality is not forgotten,
for "our power as individuals depends upon our recognition of the
rights of others."
It is true that the social problem is an intricate one and cannot be
worked out, even partially, at any stage of education, unless the
leader of the children be a true leader, and be enthusiastically
convinced of the essential value of the principles on which the
problem is based. Yet this might be said with equal truth of any
educational aim, for the gospel must always have its interpreters, and
some will ever give a more spiritual reading and seize the truth which
was only half expressed, while others, dull-eyed, mechanical, "kill
with the letter."
"After all," says Dr. Stanley Hall, "there is nothing so practical in
education as the ideal, nor so ideal as the practical;" and we may
be assured that the direction of the social tendencies of the child
toward high and noble aims, toward the sinking of self and the
generous thought of others,—that this is not only ideal, not only a
following after the purest light yet vouchsafed to us, but is at the
same time practical in its detailed workings, and in its adaptation to
the needs and desires of the day.
THE RELATION OF THE KINDERGARTEN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL
"The nature of an educational system is determined by the manner in
which it is begun."
The question for us to decide to-day is not how we can interest people
in and how illustrate the true kindergarten, for that is already done
to a considerable extent; but, how we can convince school boards,
superintendents, and voters that the final introduction of the
kindergarten into the public school system is a thing greatly to
be desired. The kindergarten and the school, now two distinct,
dissimilar, and sometimes, though of late very seldom, antagonistic
institutions,—how will the one affect, or be affected by the other?
As to the final adoption of the kindergarten there is a preliminary
question which goes straight to the root of the whole matter. At
present the state accepts the responsibility of educating children
after an arbitrarily fixed age has been reached. Ought it not, rather,
if it assumes the responsibility at all, to begin to educate the child
when he needs education?
Thoughtful people are now awaking to the fact that this regulation is
an artificial, not a natural one, and that we have been wasting two
precious years which might not only be put to valuable uses, but would
so shape and influence after-teaching that every succeeding step
would be taken with greater ease and profit. We have been discreet in
omitting the beginning, so long as we did not feel sure how to begin.
But we know now that Froebel's method of dealing with four or five
year old babies, when used by a discreet and intelligent person,
justifies us in taking this delicate, debatable ground.
So far, then, it is a question of law—a law which can be modified
just as soon and as sensibly as the people wish. Before, however, that
modification can become the active wish of the people, its importance
must be understood and its effects estimated. Could it be shown that
after-education will be hindered or in any way rendered more difficult
by the kindergarten, clearly all efforts to introduce it must cease.
Were it merely a matter of indifference, something that would neither
make nor mar the after-work of schools, then it would remain a matter
of choice or fancy, for individual parents to decide as they like;
but, if it can be shown that the work of the kindergarten will lay a
more solid foundation, or trace more direct paths for the workers of a
later period, then it behooves us to give it a hearty welcome, and to
work out its principles with zealous good will: and "working out"
its principles means, not accepting it as a finality—a piece of
flawless perfection—but as a stepping-stone which will lead us nearer
to the truth. If it is a good thing, it is good for all; if it is
truth, we want it everywhere; but if this new department of education
and training is to gain ground, or accomplish the successful fruition
of its wishes, there must be perfect unity among teachers concerning
it. If they all understood the thing itself, and understood each
other, there could be no lack of sympathy; yet there has been
misunderstanding, conflict occasionally, and some otherwise worthy
teachers have used the kindergarten as a sort of intellectual
cuttle-fish to sharpen their conversational bills upon.
Of course I am not blind to the fact that after we have determined
that we ought to have the kindergarten, there are many questions of
expediency: suitable rooms, expense of material, salaries, assistants,
age of children at entrance, system of government, number of children
in one kindergarten; and greatest of all, but least thought of,
strangely, the linking together of kindergarten and school, so that
the development shall be continuous, and the chain of impressions
perfect and unbroken.
Suffice it to say that it has been done, and can be done again; but it
needs discretion, forethought, tact, earnestness, and unimpeachable
honesty of administration, for unless we can depend upon our school
boards and kindergartners implicitly, counting upon them for wise
coöperation, brooding care, and great wisdom in selection of teachers,
the experiment will be a failure. We have risks enough to run as it
is; let us not permit our little ones, more susceptible by reason of
age than any we have to deal with now,—let us not permit them to
become victims of politics, rings, or machine teaching.
The kindergarten is more liable to abuse than any other department of
teaching. There is no ground in the universe so sacred as this.
But the difference between primary schools is just as great, only,
unfortunately, we have become used to it; and the kindergarten being
under fire, so to speak, must be absolutely ideal in its perfection,
or it is ruthlessly held up to scorn.
There is a tremendous awakening all over the country with regard to
kindergarten and primary work, and this is well, since the greatest
and most fatal mistakes of the public school system have been made
just here; and the time is surely coming when more knowledge,
wisdom, tact, ingenuity, forethought, yes, and money, will be expended
in order to meet the demands of the case. The time is coming when the
imp of parsimony will no longer be mistaken for the spirit of economy;
when a woman possessed of ordinary human frailty will no longer be
required to guide, direct, develop, train, help, love, and be patient
with sixty little ones, just beginning to tread the difficult paths of
learning, and each receiving just one sixtieth of what he craves. The
millennium will be close at hand when we cease to expect from girls
just out of the high school what Socrates never attempted, and would
have deemed impossible.
Look at Senator Stanford's famous Palo Alto stock farm. Each colt born
into that favored community is placed in a class of twelve. These
twelve colts are cared for and taught by four or five trained
teachers. No man interested in the training of fine horses ever
objects, so far as I know, to such expenditure of labor and money. The
end is supposed to justify the means. But when the creatures to be
trained are human beings, and when the end to be reached is not
race-horses, but merely citizens, we employ a very different process
That this subject of early training is a vitally interesting one to
thinking people cannot be denied. The kindergarten has become the
fashion, you say, cynically. This is scarcely true; but it is a fact
that the upper, the middle, and the lower classes among us begin
to recognize the existence of children under six years of age,
and realize that far from being nonentities in life, or unknown
quantities, they are very lively units in the sum of progressive
When we speak of kindergarten work among the children of the poor, and
argue its claims as one of the best means of taking unfortunate little
Arabs from the demoralizing life of the streets, and of giving their
aimless hands something useful to do, their restless minds something
good and fruitful to think of, and their curious eyes something
beautiful to look on, there is not a word of disapproval. People seem
willing to concede its moral value when applied to the lower classes,
but, when they are obliged to pay anything to procure this training
for their own children, or see any prospect of what they call an
already extravagant school system made more so by its addition, they
become prolific in doubts. In other words, they believe in it when you
call it philanthropy, but not when you call it education; and it
must be called the germ of the better education, toward which we are
all struggling, the nearest approach to the perfect beginning which we
have yet found.
We see in the excellence of Froebel's idea, educationally considered,
its only claim to peculiar power in dealing with incipient hoodlumism.
It is only because it has such unusual fitness to child-nature, such a
store of philosophy and ingenuity in its appliances, and such a wealth
of spiritual truth in its aims and methods, that it is so great a
power with neglected children and ignorant and vicious parents.
The principles on which Froebel built his educational idea may be
summed up briefly under four heads. First, All the faculties of the
child are to be drawn out and exercised as far as age allows. Second,
The powers of habit and association, which are the great instruments
of all education, of the whole training of life, must be developed
with a systematic purpose from the earliest dawn of intelligence.
Third, The active instincts of childhood are to be cultivated through
manual exercise (chiefly creative in character), which is made an
essential part of the training, and this manual exercise is to be
valued chiefly as a means of self-expression. Fourth, The senses are
to be trained to accuracy as well as the hand. The child must learn
how to observe what is placed before him, and to observe it truly, an
acquirement which any teacher of science or art will appreciate. To
work out these principles, Froebel devised his practical method of
infant education, and the very name he gave to the place where his
play lessons were to be used marks his purpose. No books are to be
seen in a kindergarten, because no ideas or facts are presented to the
child that he cannot clearly understand and verify. The object is not
to teach him arithmetic or geometry, though he learns enough of both
to be very useful to him hereafter; but to lead him to discover
truths concerning forms and numbers, lines and angles, for himself.
Thus in the play-lessons the teacher simply rules the order in which
the child shall approach a new thing, and gives him the correct
names which, henceforth, he must always use; but the observation of
resemblances and differences (that groundwork of all knowledge), the
reasoning from one point to another, and the conclusions he arrives
at, are all his own; he is only led to see his mistake if he makes
one. The child handles every object from which he is taught, and
learns to reproduce it.
It is not enough to say that any ordinary system of object teaching in
the hands of an ingenious teacher will serve the purpose or take the
place of the kindergarten. People who say this evidently have no
conception of Froebel's plan, in which the simultaneous training of
head, heart, and hand is the most striking characteristic.
The kindergarten is mainly distinguished from the later instruction of
the school by making the knowledge of facts and the cultivation of
the memory subordinate to the development of observation and to the
appropriate activity of the child, physical, mental, and moral. Its
aim is to utilize the now almost wasted time from four to six years, a
time when all negligent and ignorant mothers leave the child to chance
development, and when the most careful mother cannot train her
child into the practice of social virtues so well as the truly wise
kindergartner who works with her. "We learn through doing" is the
watchword of the kindergarten, but it must be a doing which blossoms
into being, or it does not fulfill its ideal, for it is character
building which is to go on in the kindergarten, or it has missed
What does the kindergarten do for children under six years of age?
What has it accomplished when it sends the child to the primary
school? I do not mean what Froebel hoped could be done, or what is
occasionally accomplished with bright children and a gifted teacher,
or even what is done in good private kindergartens, for that is yet
more; but I mean what is actually done for children by charitable
organizations, which are really doing the work of the state.
I think they can claim tangible results which are wholly remarkable;
and yet they do not work for results, or expect much visible fruit in
these tender years, from a culture which is so natural, child-like,
and unobtrusive that its very outward simplicity has caused it to be
regarded as a plaything.
In glancing over the acquirements of the child who has left the
kindergarten, and has been actually taught nothing in the ordinary
acceptation of the word, we find that he has worked, experimented,
invented, compared, reproduced. All things have been revealed in the
doing, and productive activity has enlightened and developed the mind.
First, as to arithmetic. It does not come first, but though you
speak with the tongues of men and angels, and make not mention of
arithmetic, it profiteth you nothing. The First Gift shows one object,
and the children get an idea of one whole; in the Second they receive
three whole objects again, but of different form; in the Third
and Fourth, the regularly divided cube is seen, and all possible
combinations of numbers as far as eight are made. In the Fifth
Gift the child sees three and its multiples; in fractions, halves,
quarters, eighths, thirds, ninths, and twenty-sevenths. With the
Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Gifts the field is practically unlimited.
Second, as to the child's knowledge of form, size, and proportion. His
development has been quite extensive: he knows, not always by name,
but by their characteristics, vertical, horizontal, slanting, and
curved lines; squares, oblongs; equal sided, blunt and sharp angled
triangles; five, six, seven and eight sided figures; spheres,
cylinders, cubes, and prisms. All this elementary geometry has, of
course, been learned "baby fashion," in a purely experimental way, but
nothing will have to be unlearned when the pupil approaches geometry
later in a more thoroughly scientific spirit.
Third, as to the cultivation of language, of the power of expression,
we cannot speak with too much emphasis. The vocabulary of the
kindergarten child of the lower classes is probably greater than
that of his mother or father. You can see how this comes about.
The teachers themselves are obliged to make a study of simple,
appropriate, expressive, and explicit language; the child is led to
express all his thoughts freely in proper words from the moment he
can lisp; he is trained through singing to distinct and careful
enunciation, and the result is a remarkably good power of language.
I make haste to say that this need not necessarily be used for the
purposes of chattering in the school.
The child has not, of course, learned to read and write, but reading
is greatly simplified by his accurate power of observation, and his
practice of comparing forms. The work of reading is play to a child
whose eye has been thus trained. As to writing, we precede it by
drawing, which is the sensible and natural plan. The child will have
had a good deal of practice with slate and lead pencil; will have
drawn all sorts of lines and figures from dictation, and have created
numberless designs of his own.
If, in short, our children could spend two years in a good
kindergarten, they would not only bring to the school those elements
of knowledge which are required, but would have learned in some degree
how to learn, and, in the measure of their progress, have nothing
Let those who labor, day by day, with inert minds never yet awakened
to a wish for knowledge, a sense of beauty, or a feeling of pleasure
in mental activity, tell us how much valuable school time they would
save, if the raw material were thus prepared to their hand. "After
spending five or six years at home or in the street, without training
or discipline, the child is sent to school and is expected to learn at
once. He looks upon the strange, new life with amazement, yet without
understanding. Finally, his mind becomes familiar in a mechanical
manner, ill-suited to the tastes of a child, with the work and
exercises of primary instruction, the consequence being, very often, a
feeble body and a stuffed mind, the stuffing having very little more
effect upon the intellect than it has upon the organism of a roast
turkey." The kindergarten can remedy these intellectual difficulties,
beside giving the child an impulse toward moral self-direction, and a
capacity for working out his original ideas in visible and permanent
form, which will make him almost a new creature. It can, by taking the
child in season, set the wheels in motion, rouse all his best, finest,
and highest instincts, the purest, noblest, and most vivifying powers
of which he is possessed.
There is a good deal of time spent in the kindergarten on the
cultivation of politeness and courtesy; and in the entirely social
atmosphere which is one of its principal features, the amenities of
polite society can be better practiced than elsewhere.
The kindergarten aims in no way at making infant prodigies, but it
aims successfully at putting the little child in possession of every
faculty he is capable of using; at bringing him forward on lines he
will never need to forsake; at teaching within his narrow range what
he will never have to unlearn; and at giving him the wish to learn,
and the power of teaching himself. Its deep simplicity should always
be maintained, and no lover of childhood or thoughtful teacher would
wish it otherwise. It is more important that it should be kept pure
than that it should become popular.
I have tried, thus, somewhat at length, to demonstrate that our
educational system cannot be perfect until we begin still earlier with
the child, and begin in a more childlike manner, though, at the same
time, earnestly and with definite purpose. In trying to make manhood
and womanhood, we sometimes treat children as little men and women,
not realizing that the most perfect childhood is the best basis for
Further, I have tried to show that Froebel's system gives us the only
rational beginning; but I confess frankly that to make it productive
of its vaunted results, it must be placed in the hands of thoroughly
trained kindergartners, fitted by nature and by education for their
most delicate, exacting, and sacred profession.
Now as to compromises. The question is frequently asked, Cannot
the best things of the kindergarten be introduced in the primary
departments of the public school? The best thing of kindergartening
is the kindergarten itself, and nothing else will do; it would be
necessary to make very material changes in the primary class which
is to include a kindergarten—changes that are demanded by radically
The kindergarten should offer the child experience instead of
instruction; life instead of learning; practical child-life, a
miniature world, where he lives and grows, and learns and expands. No
primary teacher, were she Minerva herself, can work out Froebel's idea
successfully with sixty or seventy children under her sole care.
You will see for yourselves that this simple, natural, motherly
instruction of babyhood cannot be transplanted bodily into the primary
school, where the teacher has fifty or sixty children who are beyond
the two most fruitful years which the kindergarten demands. Besides,
the teachers of the lower grades cannot introduce more than an
infinitesimal number of kindergarten exercises, and at the same time
keep up their full routine of primary studies and exercises.
Any one who understands the double needs of the kindergarten and
primary school cannot fail to see this matter correctly, and as I
said before, we do not want a few kindergarten exercises, we want the
kindergarten. If teachers were all indoctrinated with the spirit of
Froebel's method, they would carry on its principles in dealing with
pupils of any age; but Froebel's kindergarten, pure and simple,
creates a place for children of four or five years, to begin their bit
of life-work; it is in no sense a school, nor must become so, or it
would lose its very essence and truest meaning.
Let me show you a kindergarten! It is no more interesting than a good
school, but I want you to see the essential points of difference:—
It is a golden morning, a rare one in a long, rainy winter. As we turn
into the narrow, quiet street from the broader, noisy one, the sound
of a bell warns us that we are near the kindergarten building…. A
few belated youngsters are hurrying along,—some ragged, some patched,
some plainly and neatly clothed, some finishing a "portable breakfast"
thrust into their hands five minutes before, but all eager to be
there…. While the Lilliputian armies are wending their way from the
yard to their various rooms, we will enter the front door and look
about a little.
The windows are wide open at one end of the great room. The walls are
tinted with terra cotta, and the woodwork is painted in Indian red.
Above the high wood dado runs a row of illuminated pictures of
animals,—ducks, pigeons, peacocks, calves, lambs, colts, and almost
everything else that goes upon two or four feet; so that the children
can, by simply turning in their seats, stroke the heads of their dumb
friends of the meadow and barnyard…. There are a great quantity of
bright and appropriate pictures on the walls, three windows full of
plants, a canary chirping in a gilded cage, a globe of gold-fish, an
open piano, and an old-fashioned sofa, which is at present adorned
with a small scrap of a boy who clutches a large slate in one hand,
and a mammoth lunch-pail in the other…. It is his first day, and he
looks as if his big brother had told him that he would be "walloped"
if he so much as winked.
A half-dozen charming girls are fluttering about; charming, because,
whether plain or beautiful, they all look happy, earnest, womanly,
full to the brim of life.
"A sweet, heart-lifting cheerfulness,
Like spring-time of the year,
Seems ever on their steps to wait."
… They are tying on white aprons and preparing the day's
occupations, for they are a detachment of students from a kindergarten
training school, and are on duty for the day.
One of them seats herself at the piano and plays a stirring march. The
army enters, each tiny soldier with a "shining morning face." Unhappy
homes are forgotten … smiles everywhere … everybody glad to
see everybody else … happy children, happy teachers … sunshiny
morning, sunshiny hearts … delightful work in prospect, merry play
to follow it…. "Oh, it's a beautiful world, and I'm glad I'm in it;"
so the bright faces seem to say.
It is a cosmopolitan regiment that marches into the free kindergartens
of our large cities. Curly yellow hair and rosy cheeks … sleek
blonde braids and calm blue eyes … swarthy faces and blue-black
curls … woolly little pows and thick lips … long arched noses and
broad flat ones. Here you see the fire and passion of the Southern
races, and the self-poise, serenity and sturdiness of Northern
nations. Pat is here with a gleam of humor in his eye … Topsy,
all smiles and teeth,… Abraham, trading tops with Isaac, next in
line,… Gretchen and Hans, phlegmatic and dependable,… François,
never still for an instant,… Christina, rosy, calm, and
conscientious, and Duncan, as canny and prudent as any of his people.
Pietro is there, and Olaf, and little John Bull.
What an opportunity for amalgamation of races, and for laying the
foundation of American citizenship! for the purely social atmosphere
of the kindergarten makes it a life-school, where each tiny citizen
has full liberty under the law of love, so long as he does not
interfere with the liberty of his neighbor. The phrase "Every man for
himself" is never heard, but "We are members one of another" is the
common principle of action.
The circles are formed. Every pair of hands is folded, and bright eyes
are tightly closed to keep out "the world, the flesh," and the rest of
it, while children and teachers sing one of the morning hymns:—
"Birds and bees and flowers,
Every happy day,
Wake to greet the sunshine,
Thankful for its ray.
All the night they're silent,
Sleeping safe and warm;
God, who knows and loves them,
Will keep them from all harm.
"So the little children,
Sleeping all the night,
Wake with each new morning,
Fresh and sweet and bright.
Thanking God their Father
For his loving care,
With their songs and praises
They make the day more fair."
Then comes a trio of good-morning songs, with cordial handshakes and
scores of kisses wafted from finger-tips…. "Good-Morning, Merry
Sunshine," follows, and the sun, encouraged by having some notice
taken of him in this blind and stolid world, shines brighter than
ever…. The song, "Thumbs and Fingers say 'Good-Morning,'" brings two
thousand fingers fluttering in the air (10 x 200, if the sum seems too
difficult), and gives the eagle-eyed kindergartners an opportunity to
look for dirty paws and preach the needed sermon.
It is Benny's birthday; five years old to-day. He chooses the songs he
likes best, and the children sing them with friendly energy…. "Three
cheers for Benny,—only three, now!" says the kindergartner…. They
are given with an enthusiasm that brings the neighbors to the windows,
and Benny, bursting with pride, blushes to the roots of his hair. The
children stop at three, however, and have let off a tremendous amount
of steam in the operation. Any wholesome device which accomplishes
this result is worthy of being perpetuated…. A draggled, forsaken
little street-cat sneaks in the door, with a pitiful mew. (I'm sure I
don't wonder! if one were tired of life, this would be just the place
to take a fresh start.) The children break into the song, "I Love
Little Pussy, Her Coat is so Warm," and the kindergartner asks the
small boy with the great lunch pail if he wouldn't like to give
the kitty a bit of something to eat. He complies with the utmost
solemnity, thinking this the queerest community he ever saw…. A
broken-winged pigeon appears on the window-sill and receives his
morning crumb; and now a chord from the piano announces a change of
programme. The children troop to their respective rooms fairly warmed
through with happiness and good will. Such a pleasant morning start to
some who have been "hustled" out of a bed that held several too many
in the night, washed a trifle (perhaps!), and sent off without a kiss,
with the echo of a sick mother's wails, or a father's oaths, ringing
in their ears!
After a few minutes of cheerful preparation, all are busily at work.
Two divisions have gone into tiny, "quiet rooms" to grapple with the
intricacies of mathematical relations. A small boy, clad mostly in red
woolen suspenders, and large, high-topped boots, is passing boxes of
blocks. He is awkward and slow. The teacher could do it more quietly
and more quickly, but the kindergarten is a school of experience where
ease comes, by and by, as the lovely result of repeated practice….
We hear an informal talk on fractions, while the cube is divided into
its component parts, and then see a building exercise "by direction."
In the other "quiet room" they are building a village, each child
constructing, according to his own ideas, the part assigned him. One
of them starts a song, and they all join in—
"Oh! builders we would like to be,
So willing, skilled, and strong;
And while we work so cheerily,
The time will not seem long."
"If we all do our parts well, the whole is sure to be beautiful," says
the teacher. "One rickety, badly made building will spoil our village.
I'm going to draw a blackboard picture of the children who live in the
village. Johnny, you haven't blocks enough for a good factory, and
Jennie hasn't enough for hers. Why don't you club together and make a
very large, fine one?"
This working for a common purpose, yet with due respect for
individuality, is a very important part of kindergarten ethics. Thus
each child learns to subordinate himself to the claims and needs of
society without losing himself. "No man liveth to himself" is the
underlying principle of action.
Coming back to the main room we find one division weaving bright paper
strips into a mat of contrasting color, and note that the occupation
trains the sense of color and of number, and develops dexterity in
But what is this merry group doing in the farther corner? These
are the babies, bless them! and they are modeling in clay. What an
inspired version of pat-a-cake and mud pies is this! The sleeves are
pushed up, showing a high-water mark of white arm joining little brown
paws. What fun! They are modeling the seals at the Cliff House (for
this chances to be a California kindergarten), and a couple of
two-year-olds, who have strayed into this retreat, not because there
was any room for them here, but because there wasn't any room for them
anywhere else, are slapping their lumps of clay with all their might,
and then rolling it into caterpillars and snakes. This last is not
very educational, you say, but "virtue kindles at the touch of joy,"
and some lasting good must be born out of the rational happiness that
surrounds even the youngest babies in the kindergarten.
The sand-table in this room represents an Italian or Chinese vegetable
garden. The children have rolled and leveled the surface and laid it
off in square beds with walks between. The planting has been "make
believe,"—a different kind of seed in each bed; but the children have
named them all, and labeled the various plats with pieces of paper,
fastened in cleft sticks. A gardener's house, made of blocks,
ornaments one corner, and near it are his tools,—watering-pot, hoe,
rake, spade, etc., all made in cardboard modeling.
We now pass up-stairs. In one corner a family of twenty children are
laying designs in shining rings of steel; and as the graceful curves
multiply beneath their clever fingers, the kindergartner is telling
them a brief story of a little boy who made with these very rings a
design for a beautiful "rose window," which was copied in stained
glass and hung in a great stone church, of which his father was the
Another group of children is folding, by dictation, a four-inch square
of colored paper. The most perfect eye-measure, as well as the most
delicate touch, is needed here. Constant reference to the "sharp"
angle, "blunt" angle, square corner and right angle, horizontal and
vertical lines, show that the foundation is being laid for a future
clear and practical knowledge of geometry, though the word itself is
There is one unhappy little boy in this class. He has broken the law
in some way, and he has no work.
"That is a strange idea," said the woman visitor. "In my time work was
given to us as a punishment, and it seemed a most excellent plan."
"We look at it in another way," said the kindergartner, smiling. "You
see, work is really the great panacea, the best thing in the world.
We are always trying to train the children to a love of industry and
helpful occupation; so we give work as a reward, and take it away as a
We pass into the sunny upper hall, and find some children surrounding
a large sand-table. The exercise is just finished, and we gaze upon
a miniature representation of the Cliff House embankment and curving
road, a section of beach with people standing (wooden ladies and
gentlemen from a Noah's Ark), a section of ocean, and a perfect Seal
Rock made of clay.
"Run down-stairs, Timmy, please, and ask Miss Ellen if the seals are
ready." … Timmy flies….
Presently the babies troop up, each carrying a precious seal extended
on two tiny hands or reposing in apron. They are all bursting with
importance…. Of course, the small Jonah of the flock tumbles up
the stairs, bumps his nose, and breaks his treasure…. There is an
agonized wail…. "I bust my seal!"… Some one springs to the
rescue…. The seal is patched, tears are dried, and harmony is
restored…. The animals are piled on the rocks in realistic
confusion, and another class comes out with twenty-five paper fishes
to be arranged in the waves of sand.
Later on, the sound of a piano invites us to witness the kindergarten
Through kindergarten play the child comes to know the external world,
the physical qualities of the objects which surround him, their
motions, actions, and reactions upon each other, and the relations of
these phenomena to himself; a knowledge which forms the basis of
that which will be his permanent stock in life. The child's fancy is
healthily fed by images from outer life, and his curiosity by new
glimpses of knowledge from the world around him.
There are plays and plays! The ordinary unguided games of childhood
are not to be confounded for an instant with the genuine kindergarten
plays, which have a far deeper significance than is apparent to the
superficial observer. "Take the simplest circle game; it illustrates
the whole duty of a good citizen in a republic. Anybody can spoil it,
yet nobody can play it alone; anybody can hinder its success, yet no
one can get credit for making it succeed."
The play is over; the children march back to their seats, and settle
themselves to another period of work, which will last until noon. We
watch the bright faces, cheerful, friendly chatter, the busy figures
hovering over pleasant tasks, and feel that it has been good to pass a
morning in this republic of childhood.
I have given you but a tithe of the whole argument, the veriest
bird's-eye view; neither is it romance; it is simple truth; and, that
being the case, how can we afford to keep Froebel and his wonderful
influence on childhood out of a system of free education which has
for its aim the development of a free, useful, liberty-loving,
self-governing people? It is too great a factor to be disregarded, and
the coming years will prove it so; for the value of such schools is no
longer a matter of theory; they have been tested by experience, and
have won favor wherever they have been given a fair trial But how
important a work they have to do in our scheme of public education is
clear only when we consider the conditions which our public schools
must meet nowadays.
On the theory upon which the state undertakes the education of
its youth at all—the necessity of preparing them for intelligent
citizenship—a community might better economize, if economize it must,
anywhere else than on the beginning. An enormous immigrant population
is pressing upon us. The kindergarten reaches this class with great
power, and increases the insufficient education within the reach of
the children who must leave school for work at the age of thirteen or
fourteen. It increases it, too, by a kind of training which the child
gets from no other schooling, and brings him under influences which
are no small addition to the sum total of good in his life.
The entire pedagogical world watches with interest the educational
awakening of which the kindergarten has been the dawn. If people
really want to make the experiment, if parents and tax-payers are
anxious to have for their younger children what seems so beneficent a
training, then let them accept no compromises, but, after taking the
children at a proper age, see to it that they get pure kindergarten,
true kindergarten, and nothing but kindergarten till they enter the
primary school. Then they will be prepared for study, and begin it
with infinite zest, because they comprehend its meaning. Having had
that beautiful beginning, every later step will seem glad to the
child; he will not see knowledge "through a glass darkly, but face to
face," in her most charming aspect.
OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN
"Where is thy brother Abel?"
We will suppose, for the sake of argument, that the rights of our own
children are secured; but though such security betokens an admirable
state of affairs, it does not cover the whole ground; there are always
the "other people's children." The still small voice is forever
saying, "Where is thy brother Abel?"
There are many matters to be settled with regard to this brother
Abel, and we differ considerably as to the exact degree of our
responsibility towards him. Some people believe in giving him the
full privileges of brotherhood, in sharing alike with him in every
particular, and others insist that he is no brother of theirs at all.
Let the nationalists and socialists, and all the other reformers,
decide this vexed question as best they can, particularly with
regard to the "grown-up" Abels. Meanwhile, there are a few sweet and
wholesome services we can render to the brother Abels who are not big
enough to be nationalists and socialists, nor strong enough to fight
for their own rights.
Among these kindly offices to be rendered, these practical agencies
for making Abel a happy, self-helpful, and consequently a better
little brother, we may surely count the free kindergarten.
My mind convinces me that the kindergarten idea is true; not a perfect
thing as yet, but something on the road to perfection, something full
of vitality and power to grow; and my heart tells me that there is no
more beautiful or encouraging work in the universe than this of taking
hold of the unclaimed babies and giving them a bit of motherliness to
remember. The Free Kindergarten is the mother of the motherless, the
father of the fatherless; it is the great clean broom that sweeps the
streets of its parentless or worse than parentless children, to the
increased comfort of the children, and to the prodigious advantage of
We are very much interested in the cleaning of city streets, and well
we may be; but up to this day a larger number of men and women have
concerned themselves actively about sweeping them of dust and dirt
than of sweeping them free of these children. If dirt is misplaced
matter, then what do you call a child who sits eternally on the
curbstones and in the gutters of our tenement-house districts?
I believe that since the great Teacher of humanity spoke those simple
words of eternal tenderness that voiced the mother side of the divine
nature,—"Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them
not,"—I believe that nothing more heartfelt, more effectual, has come
ringing down to us through the centuries than Froebel's inspired and
inspiring call, "Come! let us live with the children!"
This work pays, in the best and the highest sense as well as the
It is true, the kindergartner has the child in her care but three
or four hours a day; it is true, in most instances, that the home
influences are all against her; it is true that the very people for
whom she is working do not always appreciate her efforts; it is true
that in many cases the child has been "born wrong," and to accomplish
any radical reform she ought to have begun with his grandfather; it is
true she makes failures now and then, and has to leave the sorry task
seemingly unperformed, giving into the mighty hand of One who bringeth
order out of chaos that which her finite strength has failed to
compass. She hears discouraging words sometimes, but they do not make
a profound impression, when she sees the weary yet beautiful days go
by, bringing with them hourly rewards greater than speech can testify!
She sees homes changing slowly but surely under her quiet influence,
and that of those home missionaries, the children themselves; she gets
love in full measure where she least expected so radiant a flower to
bloom; she receives gratitude from some parents far beyond what she
is conscious of deserving; she sees the ancient and respectable
dirt-devil being driven from many of the homes where he has reigned
supreme for years; she sees brutal punishments giving place to sweeter
methods and kinder treatment; and she is too happy and too grateful,
for these and more encouragements, to be disheartened by any cynical
dissertations on the determination of the world to go wrong and the
impossibility of preventing it.
It is easier, in my opinion, to raise money for, and interest the
general man or woman in, the free kindergarten than in any other
single charity. It is always comparatively easy to convince people of
a truth, but it is much easier to convince them of some truths than of
others. If you wish to found a library, build a hospital, establish a
diet-kitchen, open a bureau for woman's work, you are obliged to argue
more or less; but if you want money for neglected children, you have
generally only to state the case. Everybody agrees in the obvious
propositions, "An ounce of prevention"—"As the twig is bent"—"The
child is father to the man"—"Train up a child"—"A stitch in
time"—"Prevention is better than cure"—"Where the lambs go the
flocks will follow"—"It is easier to form than to reform," and so on
ad infinitum—proverbs multiply. The advantages of preventive work
are so palpable that as soon as you broach the matter you ought to
find your case proved and judgment awarded to the plaintiff, before
you open your lips to plead.
The whole matter is crystal clear; for happily, where the protection
of children is concerned, there is not any free-trade side to the
argument. We need the public kindergarten educationally as the
vestibule to our school work. We need it as a philanthropic agent,
leading the child gently into right habits of thought, speech, and
action from the beginning. We need it to help in the absorption and
amalgamation of our foreign element; for the social training, the
opportunity for coöperation, and the purely republican form of
government in the kindergarten make it of great value in the
development of the citizen-virtues, as well as those of the
I cannot help thinking that if this side of Froebel's educational idea
were more insisted on throughout our common school system, we should
be making better citizens and no worse scholars.
If we believe in the kindergarten, if we wish it to become a part
of our educational system, we have only to let that belief—that
desire—crystallize into action; but we must not leave it for somebody
else to do.
It is clearly every mother's business and father's
business,—spinsters and bachelors are not exempt, for they know not
in what hour they may be snatched from sweet liberty, and delivered
into sweeter slavery. It is a lawyer's business, for though it will
make the world better, it will not do it soon enough to lessen
litigation in his time. It is surely the doctor's business, and the
minister's, and that of the business man. It is in fact everybody's
The beauty of this kindergarten subject is its kaleidoscopic
character; it presents, like all truth, so many sides that you can
give every one that which he likes or is fitted to receive. Take the
aggressively self-made man who thinks our general scheme of education
unprofitable,—show him the kindergarten plan of manual training. He
rubs his hands. "Ah! that's common sense," he says. "I don't believe
in your colleges—I never went to college; you may count on me."
Give the man of esthetic taste an idea of what the kindergarten does
in developing the sense of beauty; show him in what way it is a
primary art school.
Explain to the musician your feeling about the influence of music;
show the physical-culture people that in the kindergarten the body has
an equal chance with mind and heart.
Tell the great-hearted man some sad incident related to you by one of
your kindergartners, and as soon as he can see through his tears, show
him your subscription book.
Give the woman who cannot reason (and there are such) an opportunity
to feel. There is more than one way of imbibing truth, fortunately,
and the brain is not the only avenue to knowledge.
Finally, take the utter skeptic into the kindergarten and let
the children convert him. It commonly is a "him" by the way. The
mother-heart of the universe is generally sound on this subject.
But getting money and opening kindergartens are not the only cares
of a Kindergarten Association. At least there are other grave
responsibilities which no other organization is so well fitted to
assume. These are the persistent working upon school boards until they
adopt the kindergarten, and, much more delicate and difficult, the
protection of its interests after it is adopted; the opening of
kindergartens in orphanages and refuges where they prove the most
blessed instrumentality for good; the spreading of such clear
knowledge and intelligent insight into the kindergarten as shall
prevent it from deterioration; the insistence upon kindergartners
properly trained by properly qualified training teachers; the gentle
mothering and inspiring and helping those kindergartners to realize
their fair ideals (for Froebel's method is a growing thing, and she
who does not grow with it is a hopeless failure); the proper equipment
and furnishing of class-rooms so that the public may have good
object-lessons before its eyes; the insistence upon the ultimate
ideals of the method as well as upon details and technicalities,—that
is, showing people its soul instead of forever rattling its dry bones.
And when all is said and done, the heaviest of the work falls upon the
kindergartner. That is why I am convinced that we should do everything
that sympathy and honor and money can do to exalt the office, so that
women of birth, breeding, culture, and genius shall gravitate to it.
The kindergartner it is who, living with the children, can make her
work an integral part of the neighborhood, the centre of its best
life. She it is, often, who must hold husband to wife, and parent
to child; she it is after all who must interpret the aims of the
Association, and translate its noble theories into practice. (Ay! and
there's the rub.) She it is, who must harmonize great ideal principles
with real and sometimes sorry conditions. A Kindergarten Association
stands for certain things before the community. It is the
kindergartner alone who can prove the truth, who can substantiate the
argument, who can show the facts. There is no more difficult
vocation in the universe, and no more honorable or sacred one. If a
kindergartner is looked upon, or paid, or treated as a nursery maid,
her ranks will gradually be recruited from that source. The ideal
teacher of little children is not born. We have to struggle on as best
we can, without her. She would be born if we knew how to conceive her,
how to cherish her. She needs the strength of Vulcan and the delicacy
of Ariel; she needs a child's heart, a woman's heart, a mother's
heart, in one; she needs clear judgment and ready sympathy, strength
of will, equal elasticity, keen insight, oversight; the buoyancy of
hope, the serenity of faith, the tenderness of patience. "The hope of
the world lies in the children." When we are better mothers, when men
are better fathers, there will be better children and a better world.
The sooner we feel the value of beginnings, the sooner we realize that
we can put bunglers and botchers anywhere else better than in nursery,
kindergarten, or primary school (there are no three places in the
universe so "big with Fate"), the sooner we shall arrive at better
I am afraid it is chiefly women's work. Of course men can be useful
in many little ways; such as giving money and getting other people
to give it, in influencing legislation, interviewing school boards,
securing buildings, presiding over meetings, and giving a general air
of strength and solidity to the undertaking. But the chief plotting
and planning and working out of details must be done by women. The
male genius of humanity begets the ideas of which each century has
need (at least it is so said, and I have never had the courage to deny
it or the time to look it up); but the female genius, I am sure, has
to work them out, and "to help is to do the work of the world."
If one can give money, if only a single subscription, let her give
it; if she can give time, let her give that; if she has no time for
absolute work, perhaps she has time for the right word spoken in due
season; failing all else, there is no woman alive, worthy the name,
who cannot give a generous heartthrob, a warm hand-clasp, a sunny,
helpful smile, a ready tear, to a cause that concerns itself with
childhood, as a thank-offering for her own children, a pledge for
those the hidden future may bring her, or a consolation for empty
There is always time to do the thing that ought to be, that must
be done, and for that matter who shall fix the limit to our powers of
helpfulness? It is the unused pump that wheezes. If our bounty be dry,
cross, and reluctant, it is because we do not continually summon and
draw it out. But if, like the patriarch Jacob's, our well is deep, it
cannot be exhausted. While we draw upon it, it draws upon the unspent
springs, the hill-sides, the clouds, the air, and the sea; and the
great source of power must itself suspend and be bankrupt before ours
The kindergarten is not for the poor child alone, a charity; neither
is it for the rich child alone, a luxury, corrective, or antidote;
but the ideas of which it tries to be the expression are the proper
atmosphere for every child.
It is a promise of health, happiness, and usefulness to many an
unfortunate little waif, whose earthly inheritance is utter blackness,
and whose moral blight can be outgrown and succeeded by a development
of intelligence and love of virtue.
The child of poverty and vice has still within him, however overlaid
by the sins of ancestry, a germ of good that is capable of growth, if
reached in time. Let us stretch out a tender strong hand, and touching
that poor germ of good lifting its feeble head in a wilderness of
evil, help it to live and thrive and grow!