A FEW generations ago the education of the child was carried on in the home, a domestic industry. He learned to read at his mother's knee. His body grew strong and obedient to his will by carrying wood and water, feeding the chickens, doing the chores which contributed to the family welfare. His social instinct was developed by play with brothers and sisters or the neighbors' children in the barn or garret or orchard, where ingenuity and imagination had full scope. Tasks of many kinds gave him manual facility and the sense of power which comes through producing. Sacrifices and hardships and economies showed him the meaning of real values. Stern precepts of duty, obedience, and honesty were taught him in the home. The observance of Sunday, instruction in the Bible, and family worship trained his religious nature.
The contrasting conditions of today reveal one of the problems of the household. The beginning of the day finds the prime interest of the family to be getting the children to school on time. They must be neatly dressed, books must be gathered together, and possibly the contributions for a school charity, for a class party, or for the school luncheon put in the pockets. The noon meal must be so timed as to suit the children's convenience. The hours after regular school exercises are all too short for the parties and clubs and athletics and dancing and music lessons. In brief, the school and its organized activities have taken from the home most of the child's training, physical, manual, social, mental, and moral. Is there left a place for the family life to furnish training in any of these respects or in allied lines, such as ‘sthetic, productive, or spiritual? Is the home destined to be merely a shelter where physical needs are met, or can it still serve as an agency for true character building? Many a mother is conscious of the answer she wishes to give and helpless in finding means of bringing her hopes to pass. She must ask what is left of the old which can be used, and what opportunities do the new conditions offer?
The gas range or electric heater, the telephone, the municipal heating plant, the plumbing, the electric light, the vacuum cleaner, are newcomers in the home and must he made to serve at least as well as their predecessors, even though not in the same way. Their proper use and simple repairs may certainly be as educative as picking up chips or carrying pails of water. The hammer and the screw-driver are useful tools of learning. Opening a box of soap or tightening the dressing-table handles is an act whose effect is greater than the service rendered. Even with mechanical and almost automatic appliances at hand, there are still household tasks to be done regularly and carefully, such as making beds, dusting, keeping rooms neat and tidy, caring for plants, occasional repairing, besides the routine tasks of dining-room and kitchen which still survive. These provide, as they always have provided, for training in power to cooperate and to carry responsibilities.
Another surviving subject for domestic training is language. The home may seem to have a hopeless task in its attempt to counteract the influence of the playground, the street, and even of the school; but it has the advantage over its competitors of the early start and the continuous opportunity. Reading, story-telling, familiar talk about the day's doings and the family interests are all means for enriching the vocabulary, showing distinctions in meanings of words, developing careful pronunciation and enunciation, training in modulation of the voice, and, above all, establishing habits of courtesy and respect in speech.
Here the family table is an aid of supreme importance. The occasions when the family gather to "break bread" furnish easy opportunities for giving example and precept in manners, in self-control, in regard and thought-fulness for others, and in mutual sympathy. The family table, with all its disadvantages of trouble and cost, may be made worth many, many times the price paid for it, if it is used intelligently and discreetly, and it should on no account be allowed to disappear as one of the family's educational resources.
The training given by the school must be to a considerable extent for the child as a member of the group. His training as an individual, the development of his special powers, must be cared for in the home, and the administration of the home must provide for safeguarding that precious possession, individuality, while carefully and even sternly warding off selfish and mean tendencies. Playrooms, workshops, bedrooms, and personal belongings give the needed opportunity for wise direction of individuality and the sense of responsibility which comes from ownership and power of control, while, on the other hand, they may be used as a means of fostering generous impulses and a helpful spirit.
The widest possible participation in the household processes and the family activities should be granted to the children. The kitchen should never be closed to them, as is unfortunately sometimes the case. The apportionment of the family budget should be made a matter of their concern as early as possible. Choice of clothing and a responsibility for it may be turned over to them at an early age. Errands to the market, the post office, the library, or the bank may be intrusted to them, and the steps will be willingly taken if the doing of the errand means the assumption of a real responsibility and not merely an enforced task, due to the self-indulgence of an older person in authority or an evident desire to get the child out of the way.
The child need not be made to realize that the home actually exists for him and that he is its chief asset, although these are the facts; but he should be made to feel that the part he plays, the duty intrusted to him, and the contribution he makes to the family welfare are important, and he must not fail in them. He will thus grow gradually into a larger efficiency and be ready to meet the issues of life when he leaves the protecting care of his childhood home.