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Infant Education

( Originally Published 1912 )



WE have seen that infant schools fall into two large groups, according to whether they are regarded as preparatory to the elementary schools or as "children's gardens." France, England, and Italy are conspicuous supporters of the former group ; Austria, Belgium, and the United States, of the latter; while Germany so far has declined to incorporate any form of infant school in her official system. Naturally, when this grade of school is looked upon as a necessary asylum for children who otherwise would be left without supervision either in the home or in school, the curriculum takes a form quite different from that of the kindergarten with its distinctive cultural philosophy. Not only in Italy, where the school is termed the asilo, but also in France, where prior to 1881 it was generally known as a salle d'asile, is this thought of shelter uppermost. As a social obligation the children must be housed and taken care of, and while they are thus gathered together it is a matter of economy to give them the educational rudiments. Hence we find the infant school in the countries of this group practically performing the work of the American or German elementary-school first year.

The curriculum of the French ecoles maternelles includes moral instruction, study of animals and plants, drawing, writing, reading, language, descriptive geography, arithmetic, manual training, singing, games, and gymnastics. This all " appears rather difficult for small children, but the method, of using the program relieves it of its apparent frightfulness. No lesson is more than twenty minutes long, and stringent care is required to avoid mental fatigue." Games, play, singing, and stories are so interwoven with more serious work as to deprive the program of its terrors. Yet, having the pupils for from one to three years, the school is able to lay the foundations of an elementary school training. Dr. Farrington speaks 1 of hearing the following ex-ample given to the third class in a high grade ecole maternelle : A man spends 45 fr. per month for rent, 92 fr. for food, and 32 fr. for clothes. Supposing he saves 31 fr., how much does he earn ?

In England, too, we find the same successful attempt to provide an infant-school curriculum which shall lead directly into the elementary school. Reading, writing, and arithmetic form the staples, with elementary nature study, singing, and gymnastics added thereto. In addition, drawing is provided for the boys and needle-work for the girls. With two to four years under this curriculum it is not surprising that the pupils pass readily into what would correspond to the American second-year grade.

If, as has been said, the French maternal school is the transition from the home to the school, we must say of the kindergarten, as usually found in the United States, that it is the transition from the home to the school building. Even where the kindergarten is an integral part of the public school system, pupils enter the first year of the elementary school either directly from home or after a term or two in the kindergarten. Apparently the kindergarten is in no way a necessary preliminary to the elementary school. It does not keep the child throughout a long school day, as is the case abroad, three hours being the average daily session. The curriculum frankly disclaims preparation in the conventional fundamentals of the common school, and yet in the largest sense its training is in-tended to broaden the life of the child through-out all his subsequent school years.

In order to make clear the difference between the curriculum of the infant school, aimed to prepare, in a more or less pleasant way, in the fundamentals, and that of the kindergarten, it is necessary to sketch, at least briefly, the essentials of the Froebelian philosophy and method. The kindergarten aims first of all to develop ideals. The gathering of children together creates a social microcosm which is to be so manipulated that it shall exert an educational influence upon the individual. An atmosphere is developed in which the child shall grow harmoniously as an individual and as a member of society. The " field is his schoolroom," and he is brought into sympathetic touch with nature. Spiritual things are sensed largely through the symbolism which permeates the activities of the class.

The curriculum is built by the use of three teaching " tools" songs and games, gifts, and occupations.

(1) The songs and games, intimately connected one with the other, are based upon Froebel's "Die Mutter und Kose-Lieder," called by the faithful the kindergarten Bible. The fifty or more games' which it contains are frequently, in practice, supplemented by others developed by individual kindergartners for their local needs. Each of these games " illustrates a typical phase of the child's development." They may be grouped into (I) those related to nature, as The Flower Basket, The Fish in the Brook; (2) those based on family relationships, as The Greeting, The Family ; (3) those suggestive of trades and occupations, as The Little Gardener, The Wheelwright; (4) those descriptive, as The Bridge, Hide and Seek; and (5) songs of the senses, as Taste Song, Numbering the Fingers. Especial significance is given to the songs by imitation and dramatization.

(2) The so-called gifts to the child were worked out by Froebel to lead up to the occupations. " Their chief connection lies in the fact that impression made through the gifts is converted into expression in the occupations." The gifts are ten in number, as follows :

First : Soft, woolen balls in the six spectrum colors, with strings attached for use in various motions. The ball " is the simplest shape and the one from which all others may subsequently be derived."

Second: Wooden sphere, cube, and cylinder, two inches in diameter, " with rods and standards for revolution." The mediation of opposites is a law " lying at the very root of Froebel's system." The child whirls the cube rapidly and sees the cylinder evolve, and from the whirling cylinder he gets the sphere.

Third : A two-inch wooden cube divided into eight one-inch cubes.

Fourth: A two-inch cube divided " once vertically, and three times horizontally, giving eight parallelopipeds or bricks, each two inches long, one inch wide, one half inch thick."

Fifth : A three-inch cube, divided into thirds in each dimension, making 27 one-inch cubes, of which three are divided diagonally into halves, and three, by two diagonals, into quarters.

Sixth : A three-inch cube cut into 36 pieces, variously rectangular parallelopipeds or bricks, blocks, square prisms, and columns.

Seventh : Colored tablets derived from the solids of the previous gifts - rectangles, squares, etc.

Eighth : Wooden sticks of various lengths, plain or dyed in primary colors, illustrating the edge or straight line.

Ninth: Wire rings, entire, halves, and quarters, illustrating the curved line.

Tenth Various objects, beans, lentils, pebbles, shells, seeds, etc., illustrating the point.

Of these ten gifts, the first introduces form, color, and the idea of unity, and the second, number and arithmetic processes (in faces, bases, edges, etc.) and variety. The next four are the " building gifts," arranged, it will be noticed, in order of increasing difficulty of manipulation. Only the first six are taken up in their numbered order, the last four being introduced as supplementary to, and in connection with, the others.

The children do not play aimlessly with the gifts, but are guided by the teacher, at first imitating and eventually exercising considerable originality in design. Three classes of forms are produced : (I) life forms, as seen in the daily life of the child a table, a bed, a house, a bridge, etc. ; (2) beauty forms, in arrangements of blocks, etc.; and (3) mathematical forms, demonstrating the elementary principles of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and fractions.

(3) The occupations reverse the progress of the gifts, traveling from the point back to the solid. In order, they are: perforating, sewing, drawing, slat interlacing, weaving, cutting, folding, frame making (uniting wires by points rep-resented by peas), modeling. Practice does not, however, necessarily follow this logical order, but correlates the occupations more closely with the gifts.



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