It is surprising how many interpretations can be given of the word "knowledge." To many people it simply means book-learning, and the holders of that idea quote the well-worn saying, "Knowledge is power." Nothing could be truer than the words, but the saying stops short too soon, for it should read, " Knowledge is the power to gain more knowledge."
To this end the followers of Froebel's teaching tell little, and lead the child to find out for himself as much as possible from the material which is at hand. Like all other faculties, the "power of finding out" grows with exercise, and the child whose mental powers are allowed to expand in a natural manner will be more truly educated than the one who suffers from mental indigestion through being over-fed with other people's knowledge.
Before school age arrives, play can be so arranged as to be the most valuable form of early education. Play is a natural childish instinct. A child thrown on his own resources turns to some form of play, and what was once thought purposeless action or mischief is now recognised as the process of acquiring knowledge on which after-knowledge may be built up. The time thus lost in play is wisely lost. It differs from the lost time of dull, listless children whose minds and hands are vacant and unoccupied. Adults with larger experience on which to reflect can profit by what Wordsworth describes as " a wise passiveness," but children have no such stock of experience on which to meditate, and with them " a mind that's vacant is a mind distressed." Healthy children require occupation, and if it is not provided for them, they will find it for themselves, and that, too, in ways which do not tend to law and order in the nursery.
Froebel's idea was that a child must be educated so as to be in harmony with Nature, his fellow-men, and with God; and to attain the first he attached great importance to gardens for children. In the early kindergartens the children's gardens were a special feature. Each child had his own small plot, and took a share in the cultivation of a common garden in which were grown plants for illustrating class-room lessons. With work in the common garden the social instincts were aroused and the value of co-operation demonstrated; but with the tiny garden plots the little ones had full scope for the development of originality, which is of vital importance in training the young.
A garden has been described by Bacon as "the purest of human pleasures," and children never seem too young to feel its influence. The wee baby that can only crawl finds pleasure in pulling daisies and grass from the lawn and in overcoming the resistance that garden mould offers to his tiny fingers. With older children garden "labour" is more complicated, but one and all find in it the exercise needed by growing muscles, which, being of a pleasurable nature, is of more value than dull, aimless walks or formal drill, and being performed in the open air, is under the most favourable conditions from the health point of view.
Very few children are so circumstanced that they cannot be brought into contact with nature and made to love it, even though it be through such a humble agency as a flower in a pot; but, whenever possible, a child should be allowed to have a garden of his very own. Thus he has a proprietary interest in the earth on which he is a dweller, and will learn lessons of far more value to him as a human being than can be gained from lesson books.
Each child should have, likewise, a set of small tools for his special use, but wheelbarrow and watering-pot might be used by several children in common. The eldest child should assume control of the articles used in common, and be responsible for their care, while each young one should be responsible for his own tools, and should be taught to put them away in orderly fashion as soon as the gardening is over for the day. Habits of neatness are thus inculcated.
It is a most curious illustration of a natural instinct that the first thing a child does with a garden is to mark out its borders. This is not really selfishness, for no matter how small the plot of garden may be, he has no wish to extend his border, but only to preserve his own rights and prevent encroachment from others.
When once the borders are defined, digging next monopolises his attention. He knows no reason for digging a garden, but, with a spade in hand, he sets to work for the pure pleasure of the exercise. When he has dug a hole, he promptly fills it again, and digs a second one in another place. When the hole is dug he feels that he has accomplished something, and thus experiences the delight which arises from successful effort. By repeated efforts he strengthens his willpower, and thereby lays the foundation of future achievement.
Individuality to be Encouraged
Then comes forth the aesthetic instinct, and being tired of digging, he proceeds to ornament his garden. His originality is shown by the great variety of things which he can introduce, and in this matter he should be allowed full scope. A hand-broom, tin trumpet, or garden-rake planted in the garden may not be in the scheme of nature, but it shows originality of idea on the part of the child, and should not be discouraged. Flowers, twigs of shrubs, blades of grass will find, likewise, a place in the scheme of decoration; and, as is inevitable, the rootless plants will soon be wilted and withered. At this point it will be necessary to explain what has escaped the notice of the child-that plants require roots for their support and nourishment.
The next step leads to the sowing of seeds, and here large seeds, such as nasturtiums, peas, or beans are preferable to minute seeds like mignonette. The tedious waiting for the appearance of the plant will usually lead the young investigator to dig up the seeds to find out how they are progressing. Some should be left untouched, and experience will soon show that plants progress more favourably when the seeds are undisturbed; and in future sowings of other seeds the passive waiting will teach valuable lessons in patience.
To be continued.