Thursday 9 September 2010

Kinder Garden

A nice piece on early years education, Victorian style, from the Leisure Hour of 1855:


ON the door of a respectable-looking mansion in London, we noticed the following inscription :-


    On first looking upon this notice, we were about as wise as the poor fellow who had paused from sweeping the street, and was trying to spell it out; but, unlike him, we did not give it up in despair: for, having a kind invitation to enter, we did so, and became acquainted with what was in our estimation a very interesting method of infant training.
    If ever the reader has nursed a fine spirited two-year old baby, he will have found out how necessary it is to find something for it to do. There is that little fellow who bears my own name, and is the image of his father (at least the nurse and all our friends say so) ; the trouble he is to his mamma is beyond calculation: and it begun so early too. The very first thing that I ever recollect his attempting to do, was to pull his mother's nose off; but, finding that a fixture, he made a dash at her eyes; and failing here also, he began demolishing her head-dress, and continued at this so perseveringly, that she was obliged to leave off caps altogether; and then the curls—Mrs. J. has fine hair, but she found it impossible to keep it in order. When he began to run about, the poor cat came in for a share of his attentions, which, judging from the manner in which they were received, were anything but agreeable to puss. The quantity of glass and china that he broke was fearful; so we set about getting toys for him. A fine horse, which cost 7s. 6d, was deprived of its head the first day, and of the legs and wheels the second.  A little barking dog was a great treasure for a few hours, until, indeed, the idea came into his head to see where the sound came from, when, imitating the genius who cut open the bellows in search of the wind, be performed a similar experiment upon the dog. In this way the whole of his toys and his sister's doll were demolished by the end of the week. A gutta-percha doll, which was substituted for the wax, shared a similar fate ; for, having discovered that it became soft and adhesive when applied to the fire, the next day dolly's face was made into a shoe for the cat, and finally stuck to pussy's foot.
    But the boy has a great talent for construction as well as destruction. He got into my study the other day, and built a house with Allison's "History of Europe " and some other books, and with the assistance of his sister, two years older than himself, began shop-keeping, having derived his stock in trade from the contents of her doll, and using my spectacles for a pair of scales. It is needless to say that to me this is anything but a profitable speculation ; and I was therefore not loth to hear that a new mode had been discovered of amusing the infant mind in the Kinder Garten. The "Kinder Garten," or Infant Garden, owes its origin to Frederick Frobel, who devoted the greater part of a long and active life to perfecting and spreading his system.
    The first thing that occurred to us on entering the school was, that toys were substituted for books, and that instead of having finished materials, such as dolls and animals, the most simple and inexpensive things were used, and that the children made their own lessons. It is, in a word, play organised into a system of labour for the child, so that, whilst he is amused and delighted, every faculty of body and mind is properly educed.
    The first thing shown to us was a number of balls, of all the colours of the rainbow. This, which is called the first gift, is intended for very young children, and belongs to the nursery rather than the school. It teaches motion and colour. The ball is used also in the movement games and gymnastic exercises.
    The second gift consists of a ball-cube cylinder, stick, and string. The games of this gift are so simple, that the weakest child can find delight in them, so instructive that they afford information to the man of science, and so diversified that they afford endless amusement to the children.
    With the third gift, which is a cube divided in every direction, so as to form eight small cubes, the child begins to build or construct. It is impossible for us to do justice to those little architects in words ; here are some of the results of their labour :

A cube divided into eight planes cut lengthways forms the fourth gift, and with this still higher forms are produced. Take the following as examples:

The fifth gift is only an extension of the third. The cube is divided into twenty-seven equal cubes:

 three of these are further divided into halves and three into quarters. This introduces the triangle, and enables the child to produce more complicated forms.

The sixth gift stands in the same relation to the fourth as the fifth does to the third, enabling the exercises to be carried to a far greater extent. Here are some of the scores of forms which we saw the children erecting.
Having seen all the "gifts" we were next shown the stickwork, which consists in laying little pieces of  stick - undipped lucifer matches - in certain forms, commencing with two and rising to an indefinite number ; it is surprising how many curious and beautiful things are made. One great object, however, is to teach reading by it. The following letters are formed by plain sticks :
The whole of the letters cannot be made without uniting the sticks, and this is accomplished by sharpening the points and fixing them in pease. Pease and stick work, however, are not confined to the formation of letters, but the most strange and beautiful things are made by this simple contrivance, in an almost infinite variety.
    Every one knows how fond children are of cutting with scissors. One of our little ones very often exercises this talent upon her clothes. Frobel, however, taking advantage of this propensity, has turned it to use, and makes paper-cutting a very interesting branch of education. The child is taught to fold the paper in certain mathematical forms, and then to cut into it in a vertical direction, when it discovers that a variety of the most beautiful forms and patterns are the result. This is what it is always striving after in all its rude efforts at clipping, and no one can tell who has not seen it how the little fellow rejoices when he has discovered that secret.
    The purely mathematical basis upon which all this has proceeded, will prepare the reader to expect that drawing will naturally follow ; and indeed the method of drawing is so thoroughly scientific, that we advise any one, no matter of what age be may be, to thoroughly study it. A copy ruled in squares, and a pencil, are all the implements that are required, and with these the child is enabled to draw forms equally surprising for their beauty and taste.
    The only thing further which we are enabled to notice, is the gymnastics, or, as they are termed, movement games, and modelling. Frobel is the first that we have ever known of who studied the plays which children invent themselves, that he might thereby be enabled to instruct them in their own method. Every mother knows how fond children are of dough, clay, or any soft substance, and he, taking advantage of this, set all his school modelling in clay. Here is a production of one of those little artists.

The movement games, however, which are above a hundred in number, afford an opportunity of teaching singing and deportment, whilst the body receives that culture and exercise necessary for its proper growth. Upon the whole, we can scarcely conceive that there is a faculty of either the body or mind which does not receive its proper share of attention; and so thoroughly has Frobel comprehended his mission, that he has left little for others to do but build upon the foundation which he has so ably laid.
    All who have been accustomed to be with children, must have observed how anxious they always are to do something. Their destruction is generally with a view to reconstruct something which shall give expression to their thoughts. The toys of the Kinder Garden are all made with a view to meet this desire. A few simple pieces of wood and paper, a little clay, a few sticks and pease, are sufficient to give permanent occupation, and to lay the basis of a thorough education.
    Not the least pleasing feature of the Kinder Garden is to watch the earnestness and delight with which the children enter into their occupations ; there is no apathy or listlessness here:  every one is doing something ; and instead of being anxious to leave school, his regret is that it is over so soon. There is no weariness, scolding, nor punishment, but the whole are intelligent and happy.

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