HOW CAN I EDUCATE MY CHILD AT HOME? The Way It Can be Done at From Five to Ten Years of Age--Part 3

1 Nov 2001

Editor’s Note: This article is the third part of a three part series that was first printed in The Ladies Home Journal in September, 1913. Part one was printed in the January/February issue and part two was in the September/October issue.

by: Ella Frances Lynch

The mother in her teaching does not need much theory of education. She is not dealing with the theoretical child, but with the child as he really is. She does not need methods, for her salary does not depend upon the approval of a superintendent. She will place a higher value upon truth than upon intellectual smartness. There is nothing in modern pedagogy to compare with the old motto on the wall of the Puritan schoolroom: “Teach, learn, or leave the place.” As for teaching arithmetic, you know the multiplication table and something about weights and measures. You can add, subtract, multiply and divide. You use a foot rule and a yard measure and could divide them into halves and thirds and quarters. Such things you have mastered, and you could guide a nine-year-old to their mastery just as effectively as could a Harvard graduate. Now take the word of a teacher for this: A thorough grounding in the above-named simple elements of arithmetic is more important than anything that follows in the whole realm of mathematics. Gather up your courage and go ahead with this work, taking for guidance your own commonsense and life experience, instead of worrying about method, and you will be rewarded by finding that your boy or girl at ten will know how to study, how to learn, how to meet and overcome difficulties.

Do not hurry the child along in number work. The secret of real progress is not in how much the learner gets in a day, but in learning a little every day, and in learning it so well that it is a part of his everlasting mental store and so clearly understood that no such thing as review is necessary.

To the little child twenty means no more than five, while one hundred is just a name. A small girl will tell you there were more than a million people on the street corner as she came by, and she is kept awake nights by a thousand cats in the backyard. So while numbers are thus meaningless, do not imagine you can teach arithmetic to the child, or very much hasten the process of his getting ready to understand the subject. He must learn by actually counting different objects many times. Attempt to teach a small child all the arithmetic assigned by the course of study to his years, and you so hopelessly confuse him that you defeat your own purpose.

Then for the sake of learning what numbers actually are the learner will count with pebbles or buttons or pennies until he no longer needs them, when he abandons them. And here is a method of procedure, if you want a method:

The small beginner, learning to count by twos, arranges the objects himself, two at a time, counting as he goes along. Today he gets only to twelve, perhaps, so tomorrow he should get somewhat farther, and in a week he may be able to count to fifty or a hundred. Inoculate him with the feeling that every day must find us in advance of the preceding day, for are we not a day older, even a little taller, a day stronger and wiser? Call it mind training or anything you like, but your task will be easy when once you arouse the child to a pride in having his achievements keep pace with the passing days, and an ambition to make each day just a little fuller, richer and more profitable than the day before.

Right here, the child may as well learn that the multiplication table is really addition, so he starts in anew with the twos. This time he begins: Two 2s are 4, and so on to twenty-five 2s are 50. He may also count back from 50 by twos, thus learning to subtract. The work thus far may take a month. Fifteen minutes a day is as long as I would keep him working at this time—unless he were so interested that the time passed unnoticed.

Of course you know that an up-to-date teacher would advise you at this stage to use concrete problems at every step: 4 cows and 3 cows are how many cows? At 2 cents each what will 7 apples cost? My specific objection to the concrete problem as a main issue is that it makes so much talk when the child might better be thinking and working out these things for himself. The problems of the pebbles before him are as good as cow problems for present purposes. He is getting acquainted with numbers. However, I would find time to “play store” with him for many a half hour.

Now take the threes, both the addition and multiplication tables. A week’s time may enable him to count to 99 and back by threes, to know the table to 12 X 3, forward and back.

Let the child see that this assignment, while more difficult than the previous one, is accomplished in a shorter time because of his having done the other well.

Give exercises that train the child in sustained effort. Let him begin with 100 and count back by fours, you timing him. This may take four minutes. Let him try again, and this time he may get through in three minutes. Again and again he counts, each time gaining a few seconds. Make a record of the lesson with time required for each attempt. What I like about this plan is that he is striving to improve upon his own record, a higher incentive, to my mind, than being satisfied with getting ahead of some one else.

But rapidity is not enough. Accuracy comes first. The learner is to be sure first, then quick. If he makes a single mistake the exercise is a failure. He stops there and begins again.

Before the child is ten he should know the multiplication tables so well that 11 X 12 is answered unhesitatingly as 2 X 2. There is no better mental training than to sit down and think out a new table, whether it be the fours or the twenty-fours.

We shall deal freely but sensibly with fractions from the beginning, teaching first 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, 1/6, and how to use them. Nothing better has been devised for this than cutting an apple into halves and fourths, and a pie into halves and sixths.

Now let the child take the foot rule and draw a similar one on heavy paper, dividing it into inches and half inches. Let him try his several times until he has done a good piece of work. Then, cutting out the ruler, let him double it to find the inches in a half a foot, double it again for one-fourth, and so on. Do not hurry over a thing like this; a foot rule is good material for a week or a month of study. Let him prepare such a table as this with your help. Later he will use such a form in studying other measures:


         Feet          Inches          Feet          Inches

           1               12               1               12

          1/2               6             1 1/2            18

          1/4               3                2               24

          3/4               9             2 1/2            30

          1/3               4                3               36

          2/3               8             3 1/2            42


This may be continued much farther, and should involve many combinations of fractions and whole numbers. In these ways fractions lose their terrors.

Later you may give the child the yardstick to study, to measure the porch, the yard and the fence with. He can prepare a little table like the above also.

Let me tell you of another helpful scheme. Take cards of Bristol-board, 3 by 5—or clean pasteboard will do—and write on them the forty-five combinations: 9+9, 9+8, 9+7,etc.

These cards may be used as drill in addition, and their regular employment five minutes a day so trains the child that he instantly comes to recognize 7 + 8 = 15. Again let me emphasize: accuracy comes first in importance. First give the child plenty of time to ascertain the right answer. The next day it will not take so long.

Next these cards are used for practice on the multiplication table, and if you have two or three children learning them at once so much the better. Lead them to see something more than the mere product of numbers shown; they will recognize not only that four 5s are 20, but also that it is the same as two 10s, and the same as three 6s and 2 more. This is what we are after—independent thinking and initiative. Show the child your approval of his using his brains and finding a new way to solve a problem. You are not to do his thinking for him. For example, I ask a boy how he will find 24 X 25. He tells me: “I shall get ten 25s and ten 25s and four 25s.” Another boy says: “Get four 25s and then six times that.” I may possibly give them a short method of finding the result, but I shall present it to them as something to compare with their previous knowledge and judge as to its advantages, not as something to be unthinkingly adopted for all time.

As for your teaching of arithmetic up to the time you place the child in school I have now finished, all but a few “Don’ts”.

Don’t think that because he has learned to measure lines the child is ready for the measurement of surfaces; not that cubic measure naturally follows on the heels of linear and square measure. The little child is no more ready for the measurement of solids than he is for the theory of limits. Let him alone until he grows up to this many-sided affair. And when his mind has reached that state of preparedness through physical and mental contact, and the desire for understanding, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to the teaching of solid measure. In a day he grasps it. Your neighbor may tell you that her little girl is only nine and has learned “Denominate numbers” in school. How has she learned them? Why the teacher hammers in such facts as these: If you want to find area you multiply length by breadth. If you want to find cubical contents you multiply length, breadth and thickness together. And that is as much as it means to the youngster.

Don’t worry about long division. This is an abstract formula that has no active value in mind training. Rarely would I teach a child long division before the tenth year. Why work hard to teach him something at eight that he will learn easily in half the time at ten? You know the apple tree, beginning to bear, practically ceases growing. The growing process is slow—almost imperceptible—and takes time. Mind growth demands a time of leisure, not fruit bearing.

Don’t worry if the ten-year-old cannot define a mountain. The chances are he knows what it is, and no more than this is necessary. Definitions are the ripe fruit of knowledge, and if you start off by teaching definitions to a child you are beginning at the wrong end.

At ten years of age every boy and girl should be able to help intelligently with every task about the house, the farm and the garden. No university course can equal in value this early all-around education on the farm, and I should maintain this even if the first ten years had not included the study of books. There were educated men before books were, and real education means culture. Mere knowledge is not culture, nor will it produce culture. The making of useful, thinking, dependable citizens hinges upon the early teaching of the humble facts and duties of every-day life.

Not only does this home training prepare the child ultimately for good citizenship, but it also gives him a working knowledge that opens the door of understanding to academic studies. While he beats the eggs and you answer his questions he gets a practical chapter in chemistry.

By washing dishes we learn about the properties of water, hard and soft, the action of acids and alkalis as combined in soap, the effect of heat and cold on certain bodies. Was there ever such a laboratory as the kitchen? You learn about mold, mildew, rust, fermentation, freezing mixtures, temperature, salt and baking soda. We learn what different utensils are made of and the how and why.

Your boy goes to school to be stuffed with a thousand things from books that you could teach him more naturally and effectively at home, thus saving so much confusion of mind by giving him, bit by bit, an actual first-hand knowledge. Here are more of the things he can learn from you, or with your help: Foodstuffs, their constituents and where they come from; the making and uses of glass, pottery, iron, steel, brass, nickel, silver. Using the garden hose teaches him about the pressure of water. He can learn about coal, metals, alloys, coins, clouds, rain, snow, ice, springs, brooks, lakes, wells, canals, sea water, salt, winds, storms, familiar animals and plants. A child who learns these things and related things, and uses his eyes, will really get something worth while from a High School course in chemistry and physics, because he knows what the book and the instructor are talking about, while the student without this training does no more than get through the examination.

Has it seemed to you that I am inviting the public to try out a new scheme of education? The ways and means so briefly outlined here are as old as our civilization and would pass unquestioned by such men as Franklin or Horace Greely. More than all else would I emphasize the lasting quality of early impressions, when the surface of the soul is fresh, beseeching you to write thereon the things that surely make for real happiness, for dauntless purpose, for the building of human character. In those precious early days each picture is photographed so accurately, each written in with such keen acids, that when later pictures have faded these come undimmed to the surface.


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