The Child's School
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE child who can step straight from the nursery into that paradise, the kindergarten, finds itself ideally cared for and blissfully happy, in its quiet, sunny rooms, with flowers and birds and stories and plays. Courtesy, unselfishness, and love are well taught, a love of music is cultivated, a sense of order and exactness are inculcated and the powers of observation trained; could one ask for a better start on the way to a perfect education?
The Home and the Kindergarten.-Yet sometimes it is difficult for the mother to keep up at home the standard set at the kindergarten; there the teacher has the child rested by a night's sleep, stimulated by childish companionship, awed into good behavior by the presence of other children, and entertained by constant devices. The mother receives it back into her home when reaction has set in, sometimes with severity. It is tired and relaxed, too often cross, and bored because it is no longer amused with deliberate purpose; and so the home suffers in comparison with the little school. It is because such things as these often prejudice parents against the kindergarten that a mother should be the connecting link between the two. She should go there often, see that the room is not overheated, that the little eyes are not strained by sewing or pricking, and that the child is not overtired by too many exercises; at the same time she can learn how to amuse her child at home, and how to govern him in the moods of wilfulness which the teacher must encounter. It is as this connecting link that a parent must always stand between the child and any school. Many children never go to a kindergarten at all, but begin at once at the primary. It is not enough to pass him on from one grade to another and trust that all will be well. The father or the mother or both-and preferably both-must be in close touch with him in every step of the way.
Public vs. Private School.-At the outset comes the decision whether he is to go to a public or private school, and in different places schools differ so that each must be studied before a wise decision can be reached. For boys, the discipline of a public school is usually excellent. The spirit of democracy exists; the necessity for prompt obedience; the inability to be excused readily for tardiness or unprepared lessons; the general rigidity of the rules, all tend to make him prompt and exact, and teach him to get on with others. The text-books, too, are good, and the teaching exact and thorough.
But sometimes a school is unsanitary, especially in a small town; it may be unventilated, or the basement and dressing-rooms unclean; or the children, for one reason or another, kept back behind those in other schools. Such conditions should be studied by a parent, and he should be absolutely sure that the school is the best one for his boy.
For a girl, sometimes a public school is the worst possible place. There may be a school-room so overcrowded that three children must sit in seats intended for two; there may be light which is insufficient for eyes not strong; some sensitive child may find a particular teacher so unsympathetic that she cannot do herself justice in recitation. Or, she may have to associate with girls of rough families who do her no good. On the other hand, she may find a public school where her own friends go, and where the conditions are all sanitary and whole-some, physically and morally. It is impossible to generalize; but no school should be blindly accepted without any parental investigation.
But the private school may not solve the problem of difficulty. Too often such schools teach but superficially, and the simple, plain rudiments of an education are overlooked. Generally there are plenty of teachers for the number of pupils, and greater individual attention is given than in the public school; but on the other hand, tardiness, carelessness in preparation, and other shortcomings are too easily excused, and marks and reports are apt to be far too flattering. These things offset in some degree the better ventilation and quietness secured by having the smaller numbers of pupils.
There must be a constant watching by the parent of all details of either school. If a mother frequently and strenuously complains to a principal of a large public school of the sanitation, it is certain that in time she will carry her point and the evil be redressed. Or, if in the small private school she insists that tardiness must not be overlooked, or lessons glided over superficially, these defects, too, will be remedied.
There exist in some cities clubs made up of parents and teachers which insure the very best things for a school. There are meetings for free discussion, papers on the relations between the home. and school and kindred subjects, entertainments, the proceeds of which are used to beautify the buildings with pictures and casts; they are the best means to the end of the perfect school, and in any town, large or small, such clubs may be founded.
Home Study.-Home work is one of the evils a parent has to meet all through a child's life. It is a pity that a small child should ever have to know its meaning, for after six hours in school, or even less, the rest of the day should be spent out of doors, or at home, playing. Where it must be faced, then at least the mother should see that the work is reduced to a mini-mum, and done under the most favorable conditions.
No child should study after it has had its evening meal and is sleepy, and no child should come directly home to go to work after school hours. The best plan is to let him have a good play in the fresh air and then study just before supper in some quiet place where he will be undisturbed; by concentrating his attention he can accomplish twice as much in a short time as when half a dozen others are in the room. Next to sending the boy or girl to a good school, the greatest thing a parent can do for them is to see that they learn to study their lessons at home in the best possible way. Too many children spend twice, three times, as much time as necessary over home work, because they do it when sleepy, and in a dawdling, desultory way, knowing that they will be permitted to sit up till the lessons are pronounced finished. If only so much time was allowed for them, and that set apart at a time when their minds were fresh, and if when bed-time came they had to leave their books at once, they would soon learn to do their work promptly and so more faithfully.
Help in School-Work.-The best help a parent can give a child in its work is to know his teachers, to invite them to the house, and talk the children over with them. This does away with what is a morbid idea on the part of so many, parents and children alike-that some teacher is unfair, or has a prejudice, and that the child suffers for it. Free interchange of ideas between parents and teachers gives a fine, strong working basis, and advance is far more certain than when both are in the dark as to the way the child is being dealt with on one side or the other. Next to this, the best help is to show a deep interest at home in what is done in school, both in lessons and sport. If a mother really likes to hear how Columbus discovered America, she is planting a love of history in her child's mind; and if a father goes to the football match, he gets his boy's confidence about other things than are learned in books. Nothing takes the place of this personal parental touch.
At the same time parents should be careful not to stimulate personal vanity by foolish praise of school-work; nothing is pleasanter for a child than to consider itself a prodigy, and nothing easier. Fidelity to work, rather than achievement, is what should be praised, and a prize for good behavior should be quite as well thought of as one for algebra. A word of appreciation for good work is better than constant reiteration that a child has a wonderful mind. To get along with the other children, to study faithfully and stand well, to be able to play as well as work-these are the beginnings of education.