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SOME ASPECTS OF THE KINDERGARTEN.
BY MISS SUSAN E. BLOW, ST. LOUIS.
The Kindergarten is many-sided. Herein lies its greatest merit and its greatest danger. To every different point of view it presents a different face. To some it is a play-school, to others a workshop, to others an improved system of object lessons. Its sole aim is declared successively to be physical development, technical training, the formation of habits of cleanliness, order and courtesy, the strengthening of observation and the pleasant teaching of useful facts. All are right and all are wrong. The Kindergarten is all of these things, and yet no one of them, nor even a combination of them. Every part is necessary to the whole, and yet the whole is something more than the sum of its parts.
“Who offers much," says Goethe, “ brings something unto many." Every man is able to illustrate from his owu experience some phase of a widely-reaching truth. The meanest man finds himself best interpreted by the deepest thinker. The partial views of narrow teachers are reconciled in the inclusive thought of the philosophic educator. The perfect curve of the circle demands the infinite number of its sides.
The Kindergarten is organic, therefore a variety in unity. It recognizes that life is essentially activity, therefore aims mainly to develop power; it knows that objective truth is the inind's air and food, therefore values knowledge; it sees that the prizes of life fall to the capable and industrious, therefore trains the child to work; it takes note of the increasing complexity of social relationships, therefore strives to initiate him into all the amenities of life; it conceives the child in his threefold nature- as a physical, intellectual and moral being,--therefore emphasizes equally the training of the body, of the mind, and of the affections and will. Finally it grasps all these different phases of education in the unity of a single thought, and in the nature and laws of self-conciousness finds its method and its aim. It beholds the child through expression struggling towards self-knowledge, and it comes to his aid with material which appealing to his total nature calls forth his total activity. It helps him to complete expression that it may lead him to clear insight, and holds up before him all his relationships, that he may realize all his possibilities. Such at least was the Kindergarten in the idea of its founder. It exists as yet nowhere, and for a very simple reason. The ideal Kindergarten demands the ideal Kindergartner.
The program of the theoretical Kindergarten includes garden work, songs, games, stories, talks, lunch and exercises, in the Fröbel gifts . nd occupations.
The life of man began in a garden; his first occupations were to“ dress it and keep it ” and to name the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. So the little child should dig and plant his own garden, and feed and care for his dog, his cat or his bird. Practical doing awakens love and thought. Sympathy with nature is intensified by digging in the ground. Dependence is realized through waiting for the results of work. Curiosity is excited by the miracle of growth. The beauty of law is seen in the life of trees and flowers, and the unconscious lawfulness of nature inclines the heart to free obedience. God is revealed to the child as He first revealed himself to the human race—as creator, and the revelation of His being in nature prepares for His recognition in the soul.
I translate from the Baroness Marenholz-Bulow, the most devoted of Fröbel's co-workers, an incident which illustrates these truths.
“ Two little girls, four and five years old, had in the Kindergarten a garden, where, like the other children, they had planted a few peas and beans. Every day they dug them up with their little hands to see why they didn't sprout. The beds of some of their companions showed already green shoots and tender leaves and this increased their disappointment and impatience. They were told they must stop dig. ging up their seeds and must wait patiently if they wanted to have plants. After this they kept their hands out of the dirt, and it was touching to watch their eager eyes turned every day on their garden, and to mark their growing patience and self-control. At last, one morning, we saw them on their knees gazing with wondering, delighted eyes on a number of small green shoots which had pushed up into the light. Often before had seeds sprouted before their eyes, but they had never noticed it. They were iudifferent because they had not been ,active,-incurious because they themselves had not dug and planted and waited. It can never be too often repeated that only that impresses itself on the child which is in some way connected with his doing. Where the hands work the eyes see.
Our wondering little children were in the presence of a miracle. Yesterday their garden was brown and bare,—to-day it was green with little shoots. “See,” I said, “you have learned to wait and your seeds have come up,--but did your waiting make them grow?” “No," came quickly from the children, “it was God that made them grow.” “Yes,” I said, “God sent the sunshine to warm the earth and the seed, then He sent dew and rain, and the hard peas and beans softened in the damp ground, then the germ sprouted as you have seen it do in peas which were taken out of the earth. God has made you very happy, wouldn't you like to do something to make Him happy? What can you do ?” “We can work and be good," said the children, and the younger cried out joyfully and in accents of the deepest conviction, “I can do something to make God happy.”
The Kindergarten songs are either taken from the “Mother Play and Nursery Songs," or inspired by its spirit. The one essential requirement is that they shall present the same idea to thought, feeling and will. The niusic must correspond to the words, and both must be illustrated by gestures.
Gestures are to spoken what pictures are to written language. Words are formal signs, pictures and gestures unirersally recognizable representations. The word which stands for tree, for instance, differs in every different language; the picture of a tree is always essentially the same. So the words which express love are as various as the phases of the feeling, but the savage and civilized man alike know the meaning of the hand pressure and the kiss. What a wide range of ideas may be expressed by gestures is shown in the rantomime of deaf mutes, while the natural tendency to employ gestures has been remarked by every student of primitive tribes and by every observer of young children. It is interesting in this connection to note that languages in the earlier stages of their development are characterized by numerous homonyms and synonyms, i. e., by the use of the same word to express many different meanings, and by the use of many different words to express the same meaning. To a people whose speech is thus confused the gesture which points the meaning of a word is about as important as the word itself. The thought of the child also begins in the indefinite and obscure. The words he hears convey to him at first very vague and general impressions, and crystallize into clearness and precision only by repeated association with the acts, objects, qualities, relations and emotions to which they refer. To him, as to the primitive man, gesture is an important means of indicating this connection, and his conceptions are at once tested and strengthened by his representations.
He was a wise man who said, “Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who may make its laws." He is a wiser man who aims not only to write a nation's songs but to influence its games. The activ. ities of men are as important as their feelings, and the character of a people is both expressed in and intensified by national amusements. Would Greece have been Greece without the Olympian Games? Can we conceive the typical Englishman without his cricket, his foot-ball and his boat races ?
If we watch the games of children we shall notice that they fall, broadly speaking, into three classes. In the first class are included games of running, wrestling, throwing, and all other plays whose charm lies mainly in the exertion of physical strength and skill; the second class of which the “King William,” we all so well remember, is a type, reproduces the child's observations and experiences,—and the third which may be illustrated by “hide the handkerchief” and “turn the platter” is characterized by its appeal to the activities of the mind. In the Kindergarten these different types reappear transfigured. Fröbel has studied instinctive play-grasped its underlying idea, and perfected
its form. He has arranged a variety of pure movement games, each one of which calls into play important muscles,-he has reproduced life in a series of dramatic games representing the flowing of streams, the sailing of boats, the flying of birds, the swimming of fishes, the activities of the farmer, the miller, the baker, the carpenter, the cobbler,-in short, all the activities of nature and of man; he disciplines the senses through games appealing to sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste, and rouses pure mental activity through games which stimulate curiosity by suggesting puzzles.
A comparison of Fröbel's plays with the traditional games of different nations would do much to show the purifying and elevating tendency of the Kindergarten. The limits I have set myself permit, however, only one or two suggestive illustrations..
The Kindergarten games, like the songs, express the same thought in melody, in movement and in words. They differ from the songs in that their representations require the combined action of many different children. In the play of the birds' nest, for instance, a given number of children represent trees, imitating, with arms and fingers, the branches and leaves, while others, like birds, fly in and out, build nests, and finally drop their little heads in sleep. So in the ship game, the chil. dren standing around the circle, by a rhythmical undulating movement, represent waves, while a half-dozen little children, with intertwined arms, form the ship, and with a movement corresponding to that of the waves, imitate its sailing. Each child has something to do, and if a single child fails to perform his part, the harmony of the representation is destroyed. The games, therefore, tend strongly to develop in the children mutual dependence and sympathy, as in all life nothing draws us nearer to each other than united action for a common end.
History teaches us that music, poetry and dancing were one in their origin, and observation shows us that they are one to the child. This suggests another important aspect of the Kindergarten games. We must see in them the crude beginnings of the three arts, and from this common center, lead the child slowly to perception of the harmonies of movement, the harmonies of sound, and the harmonies of thought..
That their varied possibilities may be realized, the games require very judicious direction. The Kindergartner must wisely alternate dramatic games with those which appeal mainly to physical activity; games which exercise the arms with games which exercise the legs; games which emphasize the activity of a particular child with those which call for united effort. She must adapt the games to the ages of the children and to the season of the year. She must connect them with the child's life, and help him to see in them the reproduction of his experiences. She must not play one game too long, lest monotony result in inattention ; neither must she change the games too often, lest she tempt to frivolity. She must guide as a playmate, and not as a teacher. She must allow no mechanical imitation of set movement, but aim to have movement spring spontaneously from the thought and feeling of the children. She must deeply feel the ruling idea of each game, and communicate it by contagion as well as by words. In short, possessed with a living spirit, she must infuse it into the children, and lead them to give it free and joyful expression.
The daily talk with the children is one of the most important and yet one of the most neglected features of the Kindergarten. It is neglected because it cannot be done by rule, it is important because through it the varied activity of the Kindergarten is concentrated in the unity of its idea. What should be talked about depends on what the children have been doing, and the whole idea of the conversation is lost when it is perverted into an object lesson. What the children have expressed in play, in their block-building, in their stick-laying, in their weaving and cutting and modeling, that also should they learn to express in words. What they see around them in the room, what they have noticed on their way to the Kindergarten, the pebbles they have picked up, the insects they have caught, the flowers they have brought with loving, smiling eyes to their motherly friend-in one word, in all the thronging impressions which besiege the mind from without, and in all the crude activity which shows the tumultuous forces within, the true Kindergartner finds suggestions for her talks with the little ones she is trying to lead into the light.
The stories have one distinct object, which they realize in a twofold way. They aim to show the child himself, and to attain this end offer him both contrasts and reflections. The wise Kindergartner alternates the fairy tales which startle the child out of his own life and enable him to look on it from an alien standpoint, with symbolic stories of birds and flowers and insects, and with histories of little boys and girls in whose experiences she simply mirrors his own. Using the “MotherPlay and Nursery Songs,” she leads the children toward the past, and, as they grow older, reproduces, in the legends of heroes and demi.gods, and in the touching narratives of the Bible, the infancy and childhood of the human race. Moving thus from the known to the unknown, and from the near to the remote, she holds himself up to him first in the glass of nature, then in the glass of childhood, and at last in the glass of history. Finally she shows him ideal childhood in the life of the ideal child, and tells him how the boy Jesus “grew in knowledge and wisdom and in favor with God and man.”
Never does the Kindergarten present a prettier picture than when the work is cleared away, the tables carefully set, and the children with shining faces and rosy hands are gathered at their lunch. Here are shown the beauty of cleanliness and the charm of order,-here the children learn to share generously, to accept graciously, and to yield courteously; and the social training, which is one of the most important features of the Kindergarten, culminates in this half hour of free yet gentle and kindly intercourse. Good manners give not only social