Through Reticence to Self-Expression
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"They are deep, the eyes of a child,
THE mysterious reticence of childhood is a continual challenge to a lover of children to discover the charm that will break it. The reticent four-year-old child who comes to us may be afraid of the unfamiliar, when it is our duty to establish a sense of safety and confidence. His reticence may be an instinctive protection of his individuality, which we ought to respect and protect, for who likes the man who wears his heart upon his sleeve? We will depart from the common method of conversing with children by pelting them with questions. Why shouldn't a little child listen at first more than talk? We will ignore him for the most part, and yet reveal our friendliness in the subtle fashion that is wordless. When he does venture. a question or a confidence, we will answer him seriously and listen sympathetically.
There is a third reason for a little child's reticence — his inability to express himself. It is this practise in self-expression which he must acquire during his two years with us, for only so will he be able to communicate with others. Let us consider five means of expression which we can assist him to use.
1. Words. He will begin with short sentences or single words, and they will come when he for-gets himself in his interest in a subject. Other children's remarks usually lead him to express himself. If cats are the theme, he wishes to be known as the owner of a cat; if dinner menus are being given, he hates to be left out. The advantage of the group to the reticent child is that he feels on a level with those his age, and inconspicuous when he speaks. The teacher may draw him into the conversation by expressing what she really wants him to say, as, "John has a red neck-tie," or, "I wonder who has a red necktie," or a picture or an object may inspire the first remark.
The reticent child will join the chorus that repeats some phrase of an old story, such as "It rained and rained and rained." Little by little he will tell more — a whole sentence by himself, or an episode. And when he leaves us the door of his lips should be partly unsealed.
2. Play. The first expression through play is likely to be imitation of class play, when all hoe, or plant seeds, or perform kind deeds in pantomime. A little later will come play initiated by the teacher, who chooses the reticent child for a minor part, and directs his activities. For example, she is the mother and sends him on an errand. It takes more thought to represent something for the rest to guess, such as a carpenter. Still greater power of expression is shown when a child plays according to his own idea a part of a story, or suggests and originates play.
3. Handwork. Expression through the hand proceeds in similar fashion. The early attempts are imitative, adding one to the blackboard full of eggs, apples or snowflakes. Second in order is a small part in a cooperative drawing, when the teacher draws the cup which the child fills with milk, or the chick whose food he adds, or the nest in which he puts eggs. A little later he is able to draw common things, unlike those already drawn, such as the orange he ate or the flower he picked. Still later he will illustrate a story, as crudely as he tells it, but showing actual self-expression. Last of all comes the power to illustrate a theme — something to help with, or anything outdoors that tells us "God is love."
4. Songs. As a singer he begins with an oft-repeated refrain, followed by repetition of each line just sung. Later he may sing mechanically, but he will show real self-expression in song when he chooses one that fits into the theme. In rare cases he will compose a story in song, to a chant of his own making.
5. Through Acts. The highest self-expression is service, and our reticent child needs more than anything else training in this, ranging from obedience in performing little helpful acts for his teacher to making gifts for parents or poor children. If a child should suggest some kind act one may indeed feel encouraged.
So, without injury to his fine reticence, may we send a child into the Primary Department able in some measure to express his thoughts and his feelings.