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The Kindergarten in its Development of Faculty


c. March 25-April 1, 1888 — International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Suffrage Association, Washington DC


I believe, dear friends, there is within us a vast domain of unexplored territory, as yet unpreëmpted and uncultivated, toward which the eye of Frederick Frœbel, that great educational Columbus, was directed with a steady and divining gaze. And to-day the great educational principles which he discovered and laid down are going forth in every direction, conquering and to conquer. The kindergarten is his enduring monument.

The kindergarten concerns itself more with the development of faculty than with the mere imparting of knowledge. It recognizes the fact that all true education is learning transformed to faculty. It does not ask so much, “What does the child know?” as “Has the child learned how to learn?” It looks less to mere acquirements than to the capacity to acquire. It is teaching the little child to teach himself. It is controlling the little child that he may learn the art of self-control. The kindergarten devotes itself more to ideas than to words; more to things than to books. It begets within the child the power of assimilating knowledge for the highest uses of life.

The senses are sharpened, the hands are trained, and the body is made lithe and active. The gifts and occupations represent every kind of technical activity. The children must work for what they get. They learn through doing. They thus develop patience, perseverance, skill, and will power. They are encouraged by every fresh achievement. What they know they must know thoroughly. In his occupations in the kindergarten the child is required to handle, combine, and create. “Let the very play things of your children have a bearing upon the life and work of the coming man,” said Aristotle. It is early training that makes the master. This universal instinct of play in the child means something. It should be turned to good account. It should be made constructive in its outcome instead of destructive. This restless activity of the child is the foundation of the indefatigable enterprise of the man. This habit of work must be formed early in life, if we would have it a pleasure. Activity is the law of healthful child hood. Turn it to good account! The perceptive faculties in a well-endowed child are far in excess of the reflective faculties. He sees everything. He wants to know about everything. He will find out if he can. Sensible mothers understand this fact, and keep their household gods well out of the way of the young “heir apparent.” Just as old Dolly Winthrop said in Silas Marner: “If you can’t bring your mind to frighten the child off touching things, you must do what you can to keep ’em out of the way. That’s what I do wi’ the pups as the lads are allays a rearing. They will worry and gnaw — worry and gnaw they will, if it was one’s Sunday cap as hung anywhere so as they could drag it. They know no difference, God help ’em; it’s the pushing o’ the teeth as sets ’em on, that’s what’s it is.” That’s exactly what it is with the restless child. It’s the pushing of the teeth — the intellectual molars and bicuspids, so to speak. They are getting ready to masticate their mental food.

Bodily vigor, mental activity, and moral integrity are indispensable to a perfected lite. All these are cherished and developed in the kindergarten. All these make the man and woman and prepare them for efficient work in every department of life. Every child should have the privilege of making the most of himself by unfolding all that is in him. As has been truly said, “the poor man suffers wrong when his education is so defective that he can not use his faculties aright, when his senses are blunted, his observation and judgment insecure.” This wrong to the poor may be avoided by early methodical training in the kindergarten, thus fitting them for industrial pursuits. For in the kindergarten development, whatever comes in at the open door of the senses is turned into practical power. Habits of observation are cultivated. Observing is more than seeing. The child in the kindergarten is taught to observe — that is, to notice with attention— to see truly. What he learns in the kindergarten is calculated to make him keep his eyes wide open to the world about him. He is taught to think, and that is the primal thing. The kindergarten makes the knowledge of ideas wait upon the knowledge of facts, just as it subordinates the cultivation of the memory to the development of faculty — every faculty of a child is to be developed. And this educating together the head, heart, and hand is the great need of the nation to-day.

The kindergarten is the best agency for setting in motion the physical, mental, and moral machinery of a little child, that it may do its own work in its own way. It is the rain and dew and sun to wake the sleeping germ and bring it into self-activity and growth. The heart as well as the head comes in for its share of training. The kindergarten regards right action to be quite as important as rare scholarship. It works for both, knowing that ignorance and lack of character in the masses will never breed wisdom so long as ignorance and lack of character in the individual breed folly. What we need to do is to bring more happiness into childhood, and then we shall bring more virtue, for “virtue kindles at the touch of joy.” The kindergarten is the “Paradise of Childhood.” Froebel insisted that education and happiness should be wedded; that there should be as much pleasure in satisfying intellectual hunger as physical hunger. And should not this be so? Is it not more or less the fault of methods that it is not so?

And just here I wish to say that the moral and religious influences of the kindergarten can scarcely be overestimated. The kindergarten does not at tribute every mistake of a child to total depravity. To be perpetually telling a little child, even a very naughty child, that there is no good thing in him, that he is vile and corrupt, is one of the very best ways of making a rascal out of him if he has any spirit in him, and of making a little hypocrite out of him if he is mean-spirited and weak. And this holds equally true of all children, whether they come from the palatial homes of the rich or the wretched homes of the poor. There is more ignorance than depravity when a little child goes wrong. He must stumble and fall many times before he learns to walk uprightly, either physically or spiritually. He must learn to climb the stairs of moral difficulty as he learned to climb the household stairs. As we patiently wait for the body to unfold and do its best, wisely guiding it all the while, so should we patiently wait for the soul’s unfolding. All education is a growth, not a creation. And to all growth belongs the element of time. A child goes to the kindergarten as an apprentice goes into a shop, to learn something. He knows little. He has every thing to find out. His mind is the tool-chest. His faculties are the implements. Suppose he does make mistakes. His mistakes are not depravity. We are none of us born with the “trade of conduct” learned. What are the mistakes of a child? It is the little carpenter at work with the hammer and nails, trying his best to drive the nail, but hitting his thumb instead of the nail. Poor little fellow! He has the worst of it. See that irrepressible boy! The basilar faculties in him are tremendous. They are the drive- wheels which, rightly used, will make him a leader and a commander among men. Train that boy in and through these faculties. All the faculties have mates. Over against combativeness stands benevolence. If the former is likely to get on the rampage, touch up the latter. If courage is likely to mount into rashness, touch up fear a little. The primal ideal of all government should be to teach a child to govern himself at the earliest possible period. And to learn how to govern himself a child must be indulged in self-government. The true teacher will be aiming all the time at the child’s enfranchisement — not in making him an unwilling slave. The law of kind ness bodied forth in eye and lip and hand will make a royal government. The rafters of love will make a home of law. And this is the principle on which the kindergarten governs its pupils.

The law of duty is recognized by the little ones as the law of love. They are taught to love one another, to help one another, to be kind to one another, to care for one another. The child in the kindergarten is not only told to be good, but he is actually helped to be good. The very foundations on which true character rests are laid in the kindergarten. Habits of virtue, truth, purity and usefulness are here inculcated, and what is character but crystallized habit?

As to the moral effect of the kindergarten, a little three-year-old can best tell the story. A bright little blonde lassie of three years, belonging to one of our kindergartens, was holding tightly the hand of her lady guardian as they wandered among the marvels of the Mechanics’ Institute Fair. It was high carnival with the little kindergarteners. This nervous little midget was wild with delight at the wonderful things to be seen on every hand. Just then she was delving into the mysteries of the chicken incubator. Suddenly one of the regular deputized policemen who do duty during the fair passed by. He did not escape the vigilance of “little blue eyes.”

“See, there’s a perlite! “she ejaculated, with resonant, ringing tone, pointing her little finger deprecatingly as she spoke. There he goes,” she added, with increased fervor. “Why, he needn’t be a watchin’ of us, ‘cos we don’t nip nothin’ now, sence we went to the kindergarten!

“The poor little dear — she had no idea that a “perlice” could have any other possible vocation than to be watching her and the other little Barbary Coasters, who had been wont aforetime to “nip” fruit and vegetables on the sly as a sort of filial duty imposed by thriftless, shiftless parentage.

Ten years ago there was not a single free kindergarten west of the Rocky Mountains. There are now over thirty in San Francisco alone, including those in orphanages and day homes. Branching out from San Francisco as a center, they have extended in every direction, from the extreme northern part of Washington Territory to Lower California and New Mexico, and they have planted themselves in Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and in almost every large city in California. The work in San Francisco has been phenomenal. No city in the Union has made more rapid strides in this work among the little children than San Francisco. This is owing to the fact that persons of large wealth have been induced to study the work for themselves, and have become convinced of its permanent and essential value to the State. Foremost among those who have given to the support of these kindergartens is Mrs. Leland Stanford, who has, from first to last, given over £30,000 to the support of these beneficent schools for the neglected children of San Francisco. Over eight hundred children have been under training in the Stanford kindergartens the past year. Mrs. Senator Hearst and others of generous mind also support these schools.

As the kindergarten is the very basis of technical and industrial education, Mrs. Stanford has made a study of it, in connection with the great plans contemplated by the Leland Stanford, Jr., University. The necessity of unfolding the minds of little children through their senses, rather than dwarfing them through the meaningless repetition of mere words, is coming to be felt more and more by all thoughtful educators. It is the aim of the kindergarten to make men and women who will be self-governing and thus be a law unto them; men and women who will succeed by their own skill and industry. Hence the kindergarten gets hold of the little child just as early in life as possible — the earlier the better. It believes, with Lord Brougham, that a child can and does learn more before the age of six years than it does or can learn after that age during his whole life, however long it may be. For this is the root-life of the human plant, and the root-life must forever determine what the stem and blossom shall be. In short, the world is beginning to recognize the fact that a general education that has not in it some provision for a special education and training in some particular industry is practically a failure. Technical and industrial education for the people is no theory. It is a question of civilization. It is a national question, and touches the very existence of the state. The kindergarten lies at the foundation of this sort of education. All honor, then, to those who foster these blessed schools for little children.

Governor Stanford struck the key-note when he said that he believed the surest foundation on which any educational structure could rest was the rock of thorough kindergarten training, begun at the earliest possible age — at the age when moral and industrious habits are most easily formed, the taste improved, and the finer feelings which give fiber to the will are cultivated. . .

And the primal aim of all education, from the kindergarten straight through to the university, should be the unfolding of all that is in the human being, the equipping of the young for maintaining themselves in honest independence. Some one has said there are three ways of earning a living — by working, by begging, or by stealing — and those who come to years of responsibility and do not work are doing one of the other two things, dress it out in whatever pretty guise you please. I believe it was Florence Nightingale who said, “If to three R’s, reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, there be not added something that will give the mind a practical turn, we shall soon have a fourth R, which shall stand for rascality.” . . .

That notable man, General John Eaton, the late United States Commissioner of Education, in his annual report made this significant suggestion:

“The experience of mob violence we have passed through should suffice to bring us to the conviction that our safety is only in the most vigilant use of every instrumentality fitted to assure the thorough training of every child in the land, not only in virtue and intelligence, but also in the pursuit of some useful and honorable vocation.” Better, far better, that we plant kindergartens and organize industrial schools and educate the young for work, than to let them grow up in such a manner as to be good for nothing else than to form Jacobin clubs and revolutionary brigades, which will be the beginning of the end of our greatness and prosperity, and of the Republic itself. We may make laws and constitutions on paper, but character is a growth, and to all growth belongs the element of time. We must call the little children from the very earliest years and prepare them for useful and honorable citizenship. I have tried to outline the plan; let me briefly summarize: Take the very little child into the kindergarten and there begin the work of physical, mental, and moral training; put the child in possession of his powers; develop his faculties; unfold his moral nature; cultivate mechanical skill in the use of the hands; give him a sense of symmetry and harmony; a quick judgment of number, measure, and size; stimulate his inventive faculties; make him familiar with the customs and usages of well-ordered lives ; teach him to be kind, courteous, helpful, and unselfish ; inspire him to love whatsoever things are true and pure and right and kind and noble ; and thus equipped physically, mentally and morally, send him forth to the wider range of study, which should include within its scope some sort of industrial training — that is, the putting of the boy or girl into the possession of the tools for technical employment or for the cultivation of the arts of drawing and kindred employments — and still further on the boy and girl should have a completed trade. Thus they will be prepared to solve the rugged problem of existence by earning their own living through honest, faithful work. . . .



Source: Report of the International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C., U.S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888, (Washington, DC: Rufus H. Darby, 1888), pp. 67-72.