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Children - Environment As A Factor In Mental Development

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Most people understand by environment merely physical surroundings. To a great extent this is true. Scientists have found, in examining the lives and surroundings of men of genius, that certain factors were always present, namely, abundant food, opportunities for culture, books, and contact with the sources of culture. It was found that most of them lived either in cities, where these things abounded, or in homes where they were possible without the city atmosphere. A home without books rarely develops high literary taste. A home without art rarely develops fine artistic taste. A child brought up in a doctor's home will usually have a deeper interest for physiology than one brought up in the home of an architect, while the latter is much more likely to know something about the beauty and structure of buildings. This is merely that the child absorbs the interests by which it is surrounded, takes on the language which deals with it, and describes it, and so develops a culture and attitude along these lines because language is the instrument of knowledge. In a similar way a Greek child speaks Greek, a German or French child German or French. A child reflects not merely the brick, mortar, and stone of the house which shelters it, but much more the ideas which govern that house. Hence the latter are much more important. It is of higher importance to a child to live with a houseful of books in the space of three rooms, than in a bookless house that has twenty rooms. Mere space and physical surroundings, apart from ideas, do not make for culture, important as space is for comfort and growth.

So when you think of the environment, think not only of the material, but much more of the mental environment. What does the child hear talked about? That becomes the raw material of his thinking. What does he hear praised? That becomes the basis of his taste. What does he hear condemned? That becomes the basis of his judgment ; and so on through the list. All mental development follows along these lines, and the most powerful portion of the environment is that which can least be weighed and classified. Attitudes of mind on the part of parents form the starting point for the child. Parents sometimes fail to understand that their mere attitude toward things settles some questions forever for children. When a man sits down to a meal in his shirt sleeves he makes a standard of social taste for his children who see him. When he eats with his knife, he illustrates for them a boor's way of eating, which may handicap them for life. Gentlemen do not eat in their shirt sleeves and do not eat with their knives. All this is a part of the environment, and not the less potent because it is not vocal and formal.

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