HOW CAN I EDUCATE MY CHILD AT HOME? From Five to Ten Years of Age--Part 2

1 Sep 2001

Editor’s Note: This article is the second part of a three part series that was first printed in The Ladies Home Journal in September, 1913. Part 1 was reprinted in the January/February issue of the Greenhouse Report.

by:  Ella Frances Lynch

If THE child has done the work so far outlined—that is, has learned the alphabet, can recognize and spell printed words of three letters, has memorized the fifty-three lines of “Hiawatha’s Childhood”—he is ready for the work here presented.  You should now look forward in the coming year to his memorizing one hundred lines more of this poem, being able to read the entire one hundred and fifty lines and to spell all the words in them that have not a special difficulty. The all-embracing topic of geography will come in with the reading. Arithmetic will receive scant courtesy until the child without conscious instruction can count the fingers of one hand. Writing and drawing will be treated as one subject, the drawing will predominate.

You may ask why the reading material offered for the second year is of the same kind as that of last. You will be told by popular writers and lecturers how the children love the poems written by the children’s poets, such as Stevenson and Eugene Field. These men have indeed written exquisite poems of childhood, but it is you and I who enjoy them more than the children do. While “Hiawatha” was not written primarily for children it is the child’s poem. In my personal experience I have often given the little ones their choice between “The Duel” or “My Shadow” and either a repetition or continuation of “Hiawatha,” and never did the latter take second place.

The child who has learned these fifty-three lines by heart wants to know what the little Indian boy did next.  If the child has learned these lines he is filled with their mysteriousness and doesn’t want to leave this little Indian boy, now his friend and spirit playmate. He wants more of his experiences. 

There is no reason why every American child is not better off and happier for having by heart this really epic poem of America. It is constructed in such a way that the difficulties gradually increase , keeping pace with his increasing powers, even keeping pace with the growth and development of the hero. One of the evils of school life has been the fragmentary, scrappy teaching, destroying continuity of thought.  A single great poem learned and loved is worth a smattering of a hundred.

Continue the poem with the hundred lines beginning “Saw the moon rise from the water,” which will make one hundred and fifty lines with those of last year. See to it carefully that the child learns what the words mean as he goes along. You will have your hands full explaining the meanings of words. Take just one part of it at a time, such as the story of the Moon, the story of the Rainbow, the Owls hooting in the forest. With every selection you will notice a greater ease in memorizing.

Even now the reading is less important than this mind training, so I would let the child memorize the whole selection before expecting him to begin to read. It is not time lost. Then without ceremony give him the book. Right at the first line—“By the shores of Gitchie Gumee”—he may begin to spell out the words. Considering that he knows this by heart he will not have to spell many of them for you. How often have I heard a little child say, when he first got hold of this book:  “Please leave me alone; I can read this by myself”? Do not hurry him over this reading by helping him unsolicited. This discovery of his that he can read is one of the important moments of his life.

Now while we are giving the material for all children to read, to memorize and to spell, we are laying down no hard-and-fast rule for all except that each shall strike his own gait, shall ask his own questions, l shall take his own time to learn. I am not furnishing you with a list of questions to develop the subject. I am leaving that to the child and to the poet. These have always been rare company for each other.

Up to the age of six the child’s spelling may be wisely confined to short words having no silent letters. The plan of using word lists may be little deviated from until the child is ready to spell the words from his reading. These lists gradually increase in difficulty; now while his memory is plastic we will all the time be directing his attention to the spelling of words. It is the great saving in time and energy to have him spell these lists where only the letter or letters preceding the vowel are changed. Notice the slightly increasing difficulties in these words; and, sand, stand, strand. Here is an exercise I have given with the greatest success:

I give the child the word sing and ask him to give me words that rime with it. He will probably think of ring, probably of spring and string. Now you will notice there are no new sounds in those words. Have him pronounce them clearly and he spells them without every being told. Here is where he is learning to reach ahead and do for himself instead of having the teacher lead him.

A number of words fit in well with sixth-year work. You are to arrange the lists as always in alphabetical order. This makes for orderly classification that will be of a great and unconscious help when he comes to use the dictionary: dot, bad, but, run, bet, hen, cub, up, arm, art, and, card, lake, bend, old, burn, oil, ale, pine, hide, ear, eat, beam, free, right, bound, tool, out. Very soon the child can be taught to add the “s,” “ing” and “ed” to such words as lands, landed, landing.

As before, the box of letters will be most useful. If he has “and” let him find letters all the other letters he can put before this and make words. When he is well along in spelling such words as these by the sound you may commence to teach him words from the poem. Beginning with the first line he can take the letters and make these words so as to have sentences. This will be pastime for him for many an hour.

Most of the writing this year should be drawing, to use an Irish bull. He will use crayon or a thick pencil to avoid cramping the fingers. Teach him to hold the pencil properly, and guard carefully against a stooped position or drooping shoulders. He may take the illustrations of “Hiawatha,” and trace them through thin paper, and after a while he will copy them. We are not looking for beauty nor accuracy nor rapidity, but for ways of training body and mind. He may trace the alphabet. Some persons question the value of teaching a child to print; but viewed from the standpoint of future utility and of a child’s eagerness to do this it hardly seems wasted time. Then let him trace advertisements and words in large type. A period of ten minutes, profitably beginning at a regular time each day, is sufficient; but I implore you not to stop a child who is working earnestly at one thing in order to have him do something else. This is the way teachers destroy concentration, the lack of which they afterward bewail. It little matters what kind of activity is employed if the child is active of his own volition; it means growth and unfolding.

Arithmetic will not demand much time nor worry for the six-year old. He is busy learning to spell, read and write. He is getting a sense of number without direct teaching. He is learning to count, perhaps to ten, perhaps to one hundred, but just so far as his ambition carries him. He may count people, toys, animals, birds, pennies. He may make change for a nickel, possibly for a dime. Knowing the cost of a two-cent stamp he may study out the cost of two or three stamps, but don’t puzzle and confuse his little mind with numbers. That work is most unimportant now, especially if he does not evince an eagerness for it. It cannot be too often said that much of the success of this early teaching depends upon doing one thing at a time and doing it thoroughly. Do not attempt to take up several different subjects in a day, a few minutes at each, but have steady, persistent work upon one. Instead of saying, as does the school, “The child lacks concentration,” you should know that his mind is so engrossed with things of surpassing interest that he cannot wrest his attention from these to the things you would at the moment have him heed. You will utilize this concentration instead of worrying about the child’s not possessing it. 

Stories are an important part of child life. What we say of them here may apply almost anywhere in the first three years teaching. I am a firm believer in Aesops Fables, because they teach such good little lessons for life. This book seems to me the primer of worldly wisdom. Tell the little one the story of “The Fox and the Grapes,” and let him tell that story to you. What greater fun for him than to take the box of letters and spell out the story, either with your help or from the words of the book? Then leave his story on the table for Father’s admiration when he comes home from work. You might tell the child a little story like this every day, and let him tell it back to you. Before many days these stories may materially increase in length and difficulty. This teaches a child to express himself coherently to better advantage than will a later course in rhetoric. Naturally we shall choose stories that the child likes, but at the same time our serious purpose is to produce a taste for sober reading. Do not imagine that the two aims are incompatible. These are stories that lead to the enjoyment of the Bible and Shakespeare, even of the essayists. From the time the child can speak give him Mother Goose rimes. Read him the poems he likes, tell him the fairy stories that never grow old. It is all expanding his mind. I give you a list of poems that your child may profitably know by heart before he is eight years old: “My Shadow,” “The Duel,” “Mountain and the Squirrel,” “Pied Piper” (selections), “First Snowfall,” “Children’s Hour.”

Here also are some of the good books for the mother to read aloud: “Robinson Crusoe,” Kipling’s “Jungle Books,” Grimm’s “Ugly Duckling,” “Rip Van Winkle.”  Some say these selections are too hard for the child, but we are looking for the easy things. A child has plenty of energy to spend. Let us direct some of it into useful channels. 

This morning I met a little girl of six with an improvised stone boat piled high with blocks of hardwood, tugging with might and main to draw it up the hill to the house. When pretty nearly tired out she sat down on her load to rest. I offered to help, and felt rebuked when she promptly declined. In a few minutes she started on and finished the journey. Mine was the attitude of the public school-teacher, proffering help to that poor child with her heavy load, although it was of her own choosing and she thought she was playing.

The reading that is hard for a child is the reading he gets something out of.  Of course there are numberless books that the child at this stage would be able to read and may want to read, but you will observe I have not given an extended list for his reading. It isn’t the thing for a child to be humped over a book all day. It is hard on the eyes, even with fair print. Bodily activity comes first. Like other young animals children need it. A child of six or seven should be working with the mother about the house, helping with the different tasks, and in this way learning to do them. Besides helping he is to play with other children. He is to play a while alone. He is to sleep. He is learning in every waking moment.

Now, as to the third year of home teaching, the instruction follows that of the previous outline, enlarged in scope. There is no spectacular jump between these years. The pupil has begun to read. By the end of this year he should read very well. In arithmetic we prescribe counting forward and backward, oral drill in addition and subtraction, a substantial part of the multiplication table, and easy fractions. You should continue the drawing and teach him to write. He should spell everlastingly. At this stage of his growth the child may spend an hour a day at his lessons. Little of this time need be spent at the desk or table. He may count and spell with you at odd moments. While you are darning or ironing he can have his book and sit near you reading, spelling out words he doesn’t know. As far as possible live and teach outdoors. Then these years of study will pass without nervous strain for child or teacher. Pupils in the openair schools are doing without fatigue or brain fag double the work of those confined in stuffy schoolrooms.

The half-dozen poems named above should be memorized during this third year. They are not too hard, especially after the ability to learn poetry acquired by studying “Hiawatha.” Be thorough about this. If you start in to teach a poem see that the little student learns the whole of it instead of letting stick what will. The child of seven who has learned these and enjoyed them has done a good year’s work. It is work that has not necessitated the mother giving more than ten minutes a day of her undivided attention.

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