How Can I Educate My Child at Home? The Way It Can Be Done from Five to Ten Years of Age--Part 1

1 Jan 2001

by Ella Frances Lynch

Reprinted from the August 13, 1913 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal.

THE chief occupation of the mother should be the education of her child, and rare is the teacher whose qualifications make her teaching equal to that of the mother. The mother must either fulfill this duty as the natural educator of her child, or choose some one else fitted for the work. The wise mother will hesitate to delegate her most important duty to such a teacher as is frequently appointed for her—an overworked, ill paid woman, with forty children in her care. Lincoln's mother, uneducated, taught her boy so effectively in the wilderness as to fulfill the real purpose of a school, which is to make a school unnecessary.

Why should any one think that the child's education does not begin until six? All of childhood is a schooling, and the child in his first six years learns more than he will learn hereafter in his entire school course. Is not the distance between the infant and the child of six greater than the distance between the latter and the university graduate? Why should the mother's teaching, which has sufficed until this age, break off just when the sensitive child most needs it?

Perhaps you say you have no time to teach your child. Surely you can spare a few moments each day, and that is sufficient. A child who is being taught all the time has no time to learn. You know the child's mind and body, you know his needs and possibilities, you know the importance of sincere living, of work done manfully and well. You should know or can easily learn that the mysteries and complexities so conspicuous in school training are not a part of education. Education should be perfectly simple, and it is when the parent is the instructor. Above all you well know when to leave the child alone.

Your method of teaching will naturally grow out of the needs and nature of your child and will fit the demands of the moment; you will seize every opportunity and take advantage of every wind and wave to make harbor.

The mother need not distrust her own powers. She need not fear narrowness and intensity. Simplicity of aim is most desirable.

ONLY under two conditions has the intelligent mother the right to place her little child in school instead of herself looking after his training: if she is obliged to work outside the home or if the child has no other child to play with. Then only is there a single advantage in placing him before ten years of age in the public school unless, of course, the compulsory school law of your State decrees otherwise. But do not send him to school if you can possibly teach him yourself to read and cipher. Remember that the school is at best an artificial institution, the outgrowth of parents delegating their highest duty to paid substitutes. The complicated machinery of the fine large school causes you to wonder if you could possibly do anything so well as it is done there. You don't want to teach as they do at school. That is exactly the plan to avoid. The grand scale of operations at the public school has been evolved for administrative reasons; not because a single educator believes children to be the gainers by marshaling them into vast herds.

The first thing that every mother must realize is that the education of the body comes before the education of the mind, and that the formation of habit precedes instruction from books. The outline that I give below is based upon the assumption that your five-year-old is being trained in habits of orderliness and regularity, helpfulness and unquestioning obedience. These are among the plain facts of life, the ones most often overlooked. In my experience as a teacher, the most satisfactory all around pupils I ever dealt with came from homes where it was believed that every child from the age of three or four should have some suitable daily task to perform regularly and well. The little child should dress himself, button or lace his shoes, hang up this clothing on the proper hooks, turn the covers of his bed to air, put away his playthings when through with them, run here and there to save his mother steps about the house. Such early training as this is the highest kind of discipline, forming habits of helpfulness, obedience and orderliness. This is the kind of training the earnest mother cannot doubt her ability to give. Even if difficult in the beginning its value is supreme and makes easy and delightful the later task of educating the child at home.

Books are of little account the first year or two. Months and months are better used in preparation for their study, and the time to begin this preparation will vary so much with the individual child that no hard and fast general law can be given. Because many children are ready for this work at five we are giving it from this standpoint; the mother must take much of the scheme simply as a suggestion and adapt it to the needs of her own child.

BRIEFLY, the work for the first year should consist in getting acquainted with the printed letters, large and small, and being able to recognize and spell most words of three letters. At the end of the year the child should be able to read perhaps fifty lines of "Hiawatha's Childhood," or some poem equally valuable and difficult. This may appear to the ambitious mother an insignificant goal for a whole year's work—but have patience. This assignment is but the definite, measurable portion of what we would accomplish. The really great things rest with the mother, and can only be suggested here.

Reading is the all-important subject from many sides; but we will first deal with it simply as a foundation subject and as the main tool of knowledge getting. As such it depends upon learning to spell, and spelling, in turn is to be preceded by learning the alphabet. What then are the first steps? Start in as your mother was taught, and as she would have taught you.

Begin with the alpha-beta in the old‑fashioned way. Teach the names of the letters. Why not? In the first place you are not much interested in a thing whose name you do not know. A child does not ask, "What is that for?" nor "What does it do?" he asks "What is that?" meaning its name. Imagine refusing to tell a child "That is a fence," but explaining its nature as a barrier to ingress and egress.

No book is needed. Begin with large letters, good print, capitals‑such as you find in this magazine, for example. Show the child the letter A and let him see how many of these he can find. Let him make the letter by placing sticks. With blunt scissors he may cut the letter from old papers. All of this is training his eye, his judgment, his awkward little fingers. Perhaps he has already learned the names of these letters from his blocks, a most effective medium. When he has thus learned the alphabet devise games with the letters to teach him to spell. Sets of the capital letters, each letter on a small cardboard square, may be made at home by the mother and child by cutting out the letters and pasting them on cardboard.

A good beginning is to arrange the letters to form the child's name. Let him hunt out more letters and form the same word. This trains the eye and develops perseverance, is a drill on the alphabet and bridges the way from total ignorance of the structure of words to a knowledge of their make-up. This forming the names of members of the family, of playmates and playthings, almost never grows wearisome until the game has served its purpose.

Does the mother distrust the simplicity of such homespun methods? Believe me, they are being used with unexampled success by the most progressive teachers in America today.

NOW for the spelling itself. For a long time we shall use words of three letters. Testing different lists of words shows that the lists here given are the most satisfactory for the first lessons. Take in alphabetical order the words of three letters ending in "at"; bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, tat, vat. I give the entire list in this case as an example of the way the succeeding lists are to be made out. It may take two weeks to learn this list, and we are then ready for the next list of words ending in "an." There are seven words in this list and the whole number should be taught. They will probably be learned in half the time of the preceding list, since the only new sound is the final "n."

After this take a series with another vowel, such as words rhyming with "bit," and the next series may commence with "bin."

Children learn to spell by spelling. For a long time the child should spell each day all the words he has thus far been given, until he has unquestionably learned them for all time. There is no use going on to the new until the old has been well done.

Aside from spelling orally these lists the box of letters will be invaluable. Show him how to arrange a list of the words, then mix them up and rearrange them. This is not requiring too much if only the letters he needs for that list are placed before him. Many others schemes will unfold themselves to the earnest mother.

But do not lose patience if the child does not seem to make rapid progress. Capacity must develop. In the beginning, of all times, should we make haste slowly. If the child of five learns a single new word a day for the first year, he is doing well. Take this example in progression: We are planning a five-year course. If the child learns one word a day the first year, two a day the second, three the third, four the fourth, and five the fifth, this amounts to his being able to spell four thousand five hundred words by the time he is ten years old. This means a greater number of words than are comprised in an every-day vocabulary. If your child, at ten, is a good speller, of how many high school graduates can this be truly said?

MOTHERS must be prepared for the criticism of introducing the five‑year‑olds to the great primitive poems. It ought not to be necessary to justify ourselves for pleading that the best in literature is not too good for the children; but modern methods and traditions of our schools keep the child from first-hand acquaintance with the masterpieces. Why choose this poetry instead of the regulation stock of first readers and supplementary readers? Because we shall no longer waste this most impressionable period upon the unlovely, the ignoble, the commonplace. Perhaps you recall how the cat sat on the mat and chased the rat, how the frog sat on the log and sang, and the ox ate out of the box. Now wouldn't you rather that so much effort of your own had been expended in storing your mind with the ideas magnificent, subtle, picturesque, embodied in the noblest literature? The atmosphere of great writers impels one to seek the things, no only in literature, but also in all life.

In the beginning the little child memorizes a few lines of a great poem like "Hiawatha." Then when he knows the alphabet and something of spelling, and is given the book, he associates and connects the memorized lines with their printed symbols. Now he makes the discovery that the printed page holds something of boundless interest. He has been acquiring a love of poetry which is cultivated only through the feelings, and he brings to the printed words his own glowing thoughts and reads into them a life and vitality such as the historic rat and at never inspired in you and me.

Let us assume that the groundwork of our reading is to be Longfellow's "Hiawatha." If the mother is not on friendly terms with this poem she will be repaid for cultivating a familiarity with it. Let us begin with the line from "Hiawatha's Childhood": "By the shores of Gitche Gumee."

Read or repeat this line and the following ten lines to the child. Repeat them many times and let him say them with you. You may do this day after day, and he will not weary of it. You are taking advantage of that stage in his mental development when he rejoices in repetition, demanding a favorite song or story over and over, the details of which must not vary one jot or tittle. He will probably learn these eleven lines in two weeks, but the time element matters little. You have given him this beautiful creation, a new world, and you have done no small thing.

YOU have been answering his questions, letting him read the pictures, explaining the words, and insisting upon cleanness of enunciation. If in your child's horizon there is no shining Big-Sea-Water, no firs with cones upon them, you certainly can get pictures of them; and it is important that the pictures be good, truly artistic, for it is not too early to train the sense of the beautiful. Good illustrations are found in the "Hiawatha Primer."

Continue in much the same way with the next twelve lines beginning: "There the wrinkled old Nokomis." In these twelve lines will be found many allusions that must be cleared up‑stories of Indian children, descriptions of the reindeer, home life of the owl and owlet. Answer the child's questions, but do not spoil the whole undertaking by questioning him on every point nor by thrusting too many explanations upon him.

Now take the passage of twelve lines that immediately follows beginning: "Many things Nokomis taught him." In these lines you have the opportunity of bringing to the little man a glimpse of the great surrounding worlds ‑the stars, the comet, the Northern Lights, the Milky Way. These will furnish material for many an engrossing talk.

Now comes a part of the poem filled brim full with music, poetry, nature, and life. It sings itself to the heart of the child from first to last: "At the door on summer evenings," and the eighteen lines following.

Note to readers: The reason this article ends so abruptly is that this was part one of a two-part article. We have not been able to find part two.


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