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Merits of the Kindergarten system.
them unpleasant associations with the thought of learning. To such teachers, the little gifts and exercises of Fröbel are a great boon. Interspersed among the graver employments, they absorb the attention and powers of the little ones, without giving them any sense of fatigue. Infants learn obedience, fixed attention, accuracy of eye, steadiness of hand; they learn to count, and to know the nature of colour and of form. They are exercised in imitation, in invention, and in the elements of drawing and design. And all these lessons are learned in the best of all ways; without being considered as lessons; not indeed in the shape of lessons at all, but rather as so much play. They are in fact organized play, with a conscious and direct educational purpose. But this purpose is not obtruded before the children, who think that they are being amused when in fact they are being systematically taught. Experience shews that children who have been disciplined on this system, are found (1) to have got the rudiments of writing, counting and drawing, and to be better prepared for the ordinary subjects of school instruction than others; and (2) to have obtained in an indirect way a good deal of useful training which shews itself in quickened sensibility, and prompter intelligence.
Hence I strongly recommend those of you whose advice is likely to be asked as to the organization of preparatory schools for very young children to make yourselves acquainted with some of the books I have named, and to be ready to take advantage of the good parts of the system. At the same time, I may venture to add two or three cautions, which the writers of books on the system do not give. I do not blame them for this. The best work in the world is not done by criticism but by enthusiasm. The sort of cold blooded and balanced estimation of the good and bad points in a system, which is
appropriate for us in this place, is not to be expected or indeed to be desired on the part of those earnest men and women, who in rebelling against the inert and unintelligent discipline to which little children are often subjected, have perhaps exaggerated the value of Fröbel's method. Let us admit that if they had not seen that method, in a very strong-perhaps even an untrue light,they would not have made so many converts; or done
nearly so much good. Its success So I would warn you first that it is very useless to try depends
to adopt this system unless you have some one to work teacher's it, who has faith in it, and the special aptitude and enpersonal
In thusiasm which will help her to make the best of it. gifts.
the hands of spiritless teachers, who look on it merely as a system which anybody can adopt; and who just seek to carry out the methods in a book of diagrams and patterns, which describes Fröbel's gifts and games in regular sequence, the results will be very poor. Much joyousness of nature, versatility, and sympathy, and rather unusual power of telling a story, and of encouraging children to talk to her and to one another are indispensable in the teacher, if the system is to have its proper
effect. The limits There is one fault to which exactly the opposite kind to its use
of teachers--the most sympathetic and enthusiastic, are fulness.
specially prone; and that is to make too much of the system, and to expect from it more than it can do. Your thorough going Kindergärtner is not content to make the Fröbel exercises an element in the school life of a child. He wants to make them the whole. He will keep children up to the age of six or seven engaged all day in straw-plaiting or paper-folding, in dancing round a maypole, and in singing and reciting childish
He is apt to mistake means for ends. He
has got hold of a novel and pleasing instrument for coccupying the attention of the children; and he thinks that so long as they are orderly and attentive, all is well. He keeps the little ones looking at diagrams and pictures, when he might be teaching them to read. He employs them in making marks, of which they see no meaning, when their faculties of imitation might just as well be exercised in a writing lesson. He allows them to spend much time in the manufacture of woven patterns and paper ornaments, which the child sees to have no value in themselves, long after the time when the elementary training of hand and eye might just as well be applied to drawing or sewing or knitting, or something else which the children know to be of real
Children know very well that they come to school to learn. They want to do something of which they can see the purpose. They are not being well prepared for the serious work of school, or of after life ; if all that they are required to do looks like amusement and play. The Kindergarten gives them nothing which seems like work; it does not train them to overcome difficulties.
Let us be clear on this point. Do not let us manufacture difficulties under a notion that we have to brace and harden children's natures; but on the other hand, do not let us elaborately keep all difficulties out of sight. This is just as grave an error. Let us admit the paramount necessity of the training of faculties. Nay, let us go farther, and confess that nine teachers out of ten err by overlooking this view of their work, and supposing that the whole of their business is to impart instruction. Nevertheless we must bear in mind that school life is too short to justify us in spending much time in training, for the sake of training; and that when we have got a power or faculty into vigorous action the
sooner we set it to work on some of the practical
problems of life the better. The habit Besides, though the faculty of observation is a very of observa useful one, it is quite possible to exaggerate its importion not of paramount tance. In the long run it is a less valuable factor in import
the intellectual life than the habit of reflection. And the Kindergarten does little or nothing to encourage reflection. It helps children to appreciate more clearly the visible and the concrete; but it scarcely conducts them a step towards the abstract and the invisible. They learn to look, to hear, to act in concert; but all the thinking, and nearly all the talking is done by the teacher for them. This is not a fault in the system, but it is one of the limits to its usefulness, and we must
bear it in mind. Fröbel and In studying Fröbel's life and doings, you will not fail his work.
to respect his enthusiasm, and admire his child-like sympathetic nature. You will not, I think, come to the conclusion that he took a large or very sound view of the purpose of education as a whole. He was not a scholar, and to the last he somewhat undervalued the sort of knowledge which is to be got from books. But he saw with intense clearness certain simple truths which bear on the discipline and happiness of little children. Let us be thankful for such seers and prophets, even if they only give us half-truths. There is something touching in the remark of the Baroness Bülow, one of his most earnest disciples, “The heavenly light given to a man seldom spreads its ray over the whole of his being; but only lights up the field whereon he is called to build.” It is well for each of us, if the light is clear and stedfast enough to shew us the duty which we can do best. For Fröbel the field thus illuminated extended over the heart and the life of childhood, the beginnings of
knowing and thinking, the functions and the duties of the primary teacher—a region which indeed has definite frontiers, but is wide and varied enough to satisfy a much more daring ambition than his.
I repeat, then, that whenever you have the opportunity of exercising influence over a preparatory school, you will do well to see that in reasonable measure the methods of Fröbel are adopted. They will have value up to the age of seven if judiciously incorporated with other forms of early instruction, although, for the reasons I have given, I do not think that they should be allowed to supersede such instruction.
And now let us gather together a few of the plainer results of experience in reference to the teaching of the rudimentary arts of reading, spelling and writing.
One of the first difficulties with which we are con- Reading, fronted is the fact that our language presents so many orthographical and phonetic anomalies. · In this respect it differs notably from French, in which there are comparatively few, from German, in which there are fewer, and from Italian, in which there are scarcely any. We all know that ours is a composite speech, a conglomerate of many languages; that the portion of it which was spoken before it was written—the purely English portion and the earlier derivatives from Latin and from Norman French—is full of queer and capricious spelling; while other portions of it, the Greek and the Latin derivatives, which have come to us later through the medium of literature, are, on the whole, spelled according to a consistent system, and present little or no difficulty. If we want an exhaustive and
entertaining summary of the chief difficulties presented by our English system of spelling, I may refer you to Prof. Meiklejohn's clever little book : “The problem of teaching to read.”