James Pyle Wickersham.

Methods of instruction .. online

. (page 9 of 31)
Online LibraryJames Pyle WickershamMethods of instruction .. → online text (page 9 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

indicate an educational want which ought not to be
overlooked. The searching curiosity goes out
through the active senses and returns laden with
rich stores for the capacious memory. A beautiful
correlation exists between the functions of the
curiosity which prompts, the senses which are the
instruments, and the memory which receives and
retains, and the order of their development. This
whole mental apparatus seems nicely adjusted to
bring about the end of collecting multitudes of
facts, and storing them away in the memory to be
eventually classified, and made to constitute the
data for scientific generalizations.

The appetite children have for knowledge can be
gratified by conversing with them. The names and
qualities of things can be talked about — their color,
size, form, weight, number, uses. Children ask
many questions, and these, whenever possible,
should be answered. Parents often rebuke their
children for asking them questions, but this is to do
them great wrong, since it serves to check the
growth of the intellect, and may stop it altogether.
If parents would spend a short time each day in
conversation w^ith their children much valuable
information could be imparted to them. The best
method of presenting knowledge on such occasions


is that of relating incidents, describing objects, or
telling stories. Children will listen to such narra-
tions with breathless attention, and receive from
them lasting impressions. Quite similar to conver-
sations of this kind is the practice of reading suit-
able books to children. This practice may com-
mence some time before the children themselves can
read. Parents may read, and afterwards make
what they have read a topic of conversation. If the
selections be appropriate, and the conversations be
judiciously conducted, parents can have the satis-
faction of seeing the minds of their children expand
like opening buds. 'Not the least important good
derived from such exercises is their influence upon
the character and opinions of children.

The appetite children have for knowledge can be
gratified by showing them interesting objects in
nature and art. They may be made familiar with
many minerals, flowers, trees, birds, reptiles, insects.
"What valuable lessons they could learn about bees,
ants, spiders, beetles, frogs ! "With what interest
they would examine an ant-hill, an old hornet's nest,
a spider's web, or the chrysalis of a butterfly ! How
much knowledge they could gather in walks over
fields, through woods, along streams ! Let there
be pointed out to them, growing plants and ripening-
fruit, birds building their nests, fishes sporting in
the water, animals caring for their young, the shift-
ing clouds, the many-colored rainbow, the dew-drops
as they ghsten upon leaves and flowers in the morn-
ing sunlight. No suitable opportunity should be
lost of taking them to mills, factories, workshops,
menageries, and museums. The Stereoscope and


the Magic Lantern may be used with much profit
in exhibiting to them the scenery of distant countries,
their cities, buildings, manners, and customs. En-
gravings, too, may be made a most valuable means
of instruction. Children love pictures, and nothing
pleases them better than to be allowed the privilege
of examining a picture-book. There is no mode
probably in which a child can be taught so much in
the same time as by means of pictures. The best
pictures for the purpose are those which represent
animated nature — scenes of life among animals or
among men. Opportunities of pointing out the form,
number, color, and other properties of the things
they see should not be overlooked. Much valuable
instruction of this kind can be imparted incidentally.
The appetite children have for knowledge can be
gratified by furnishing them with proper toys and
playthings. A child needs play as much as he needs
food. He must have it, and this disposition can be
turned to good account mentally as well as physically.
Whenever possible, a suitable apartment should be
arranged in every house in which there are children,
for a play-room where they might be allowed to run,
jump, and play without danger to themselves or
disturbance to others. This play-room ought to be
provided with swings, hobby-horses, little wagons,
jumping-ropes, balls, blocks of many shapes and
sizes, and some w^ith prints of animals, letters, &c.,
upon them, wheels, beads of different colors arranged
on strings, blackboards and chalk — anything indeed
of which an interesting play can be made. To make
these plays most valuable, some older person must
assist in planning the plays and superintend the



children in playing. In fine weather the plays may
take place in the open air. A yard with a sward of
grass is the best place for them. The Infant Schools
of Europe have gardens or yards attached to them
in which the children sing, and dance, and play,
under the constant care and direction of teachers
whose presence is no restraint upon the fun, but
who seize the fit opportunity to intermingle instruc-
tion with it. In writing what has just been said, I
have had in mind quite young children. Some
additional playthings may be provided for those who
are older. Among these toy-towns with difierent
kinds of buildings, people and animals walking in
the streets, vehicles passing along, &c. ; slates and
pencils ; cup-and-ball ; paper for cutting pictures
out of; clay for modeling figures ; tea-sets and house-
furniture in miniature ; letters and maps cut into
sections ; the Chinese puzzle ; blocks of great variety
and shape, with which stools, chairs, tables, houses,
monuments, towers, castles, churches, bridges, &c.,
could be made. For amusement out-of-doors, balls,
kites, hoops, bows and arrows, carts, wheelbarrows,
garden tools, quoits, and other things of the same
kind are proper. It must not be supposed that it is
expected that any one family will i^rocure all the
articles mentioned, the design is only to name those
out of which selections may be made. Toys and
playthings should be kept under lock and key, and
children be allowed at one time only those articles
which they may choose or which may be considered
proper for them. Frequent changes will keep them
ever new. Besides, children should be allowed to
exercise their own ingenuity in inventing means of


enjoymeut. It will be observed that our list of toys
and playthings includes only those which may be
made use of for the purposes of instruction and
discipline, and these are the only kinds I would
permit children to handle. Space need not be taken
up in describing in detail the manner of mingling
instruction with play, for after what has already
been said the instincts of those who sympathize w^ith
children will guide them correctly.

4. Children should be furnished occasions for


Beautiful, and Good. — Truth has been defined as
the correspondence betw^een thought and its objects.
There are diiierent kinds of truth, but no classifica-
tion of them is needed here. The truths w^ith which
a child becomes first familiar may be called truths
of perception. He learns by means of his senses
that iron is hard, that ice is cold, that roses are red,
that birds sing, that plants grow green in the sun-
shine, that animals need food, that water seeks a
level, that the whole is equal to all its parts ; and
every eftbrt should be made to widen his experience,
for this will fix in his mind the correspondence be-
tween thought and thing. The stories children are
so apt to tell arise mainly from defective observa-
tion or from the mistake they sometimes make of
supposing that the pictures of their fancy are the per-
ceptions of their senses. A child that comes to his
mother and says that he saw a cow in the field that
has five legs, or that he talked with his grandfather
who is a hundred miles away, does nothing at which
a parent should be alarmed. Habits of correct ob-


servation will make it all right. A judicious mother
would take her child by the hand and go and look
at the cow, or ask him to find the place where he
met his grandfather, and a good lesson would be
taught him. Always set a child right when he says
a thing that is wrong, and never fail to give him
every chance of learning what is true. A very
young child can recognize the difference between
truth and falsehood. If his brother tell him that
his ball has rolled behind the door and he does not
find it there, or that a bright penny is in one hand
when he finds it in the other, he shows by his looks
that he understands the deception that has been
practiced upon him. I am firmly convinced that
it is in great measure owing to the deceptions of
w^hich he is the witness on the part of servants, play-
mates, brothers and sisters, and even parents, that a
child learns to tell falsehoods. How can he remain
pure and innocent wdiile he beholds constantly about
him those who practice exaggeration, deception, and
falsehood ? Let all conduct in the presence of a
child be open and shicere, let all words spoken be-
fore him be honest and truthful ; and, furnished
with such occasions, he will not only learn w^hat is
true but be truthful. One who is himself truthful
will trust others, and this is the ground upon which
rests our earliest and purest faith.

Children appreciate the beautiful in objects at a
much earlier age than is generally supposed. I
have noticed well-marked evidences of such appre-
ciation at the age of two years. This taste for the
beautiful, like the early buddings of a tender plant,
requires careful culture. The attention of children


may be easil}^ called to beautiful flowers, trees and
birds ; to the rippling brook, the towering moun-
tain, the rising or the setting sun ; to pattering
rain-drops, falling snow-flakes, and drifting clouds.
Nature is everywhere full of beauty, and it may l)e
used with an unsparing hand to make glad the
hearts of children. Art, too, has beauties which are
attractive to the young. Of course, they cannot ap-
preciate a fine painting or piece of statuary ; but
they are keenly alive to what might be called sur-
face beauty — that which depends upon color, form,
proportion, motion, and like qualities. Let their
thirsty spirit drink at these fountains until they come
to find purer draughts deeper down. If every child
could have a bed of flowers to plant and cultivate,
or a pet bird or rabbit to care for, it would do much
to improve his taste and awaken feelings of ten-
derness and love.

Clearly there is a power within us which God de-
signed to enable us to distinguish between right
and wrong. We may not make good use of it and
accept error for truth, but that does not invalidate
the certainty of the great fact that the faculty- exists.
Young children can discriminate between good acts
and bad acts, and this power they seem ready to
apply when proper occasions are presented. If the
good is constantly exemplified in the conduct of
those who surround a child and whom he loves, his
sense of right and wrong must be quickened by the
exercise it would receive. Would that all parents
felt the great importance of this fact ! Besides, pains
can be taken to point out good acts to a child — acts
of honesty, justice, kindness, mercy, gratitude, pa-

12 *


triotism. Life in every neighborhood has incidents
of this kind, and history is full of them. Let his
conscience be kept active by frequent appeals to it,
and the child will grow daily in virtue.

What is said in the preceding paragraphs is predi-
cated upon the assumption that the human mind
has the power in itself to determine what is true,
beautiful, and good, and that the duty of the in-
structor consists only in multiplying occasions for
its exercise. But to arrange these occasions so as
to answer their end is a work so delicate and difficult
that none but the most accomplished teachers can
perform it skilfully. Something, however, may be
done by all who love children and sincerely desire
to have them become virtuous and happy themselves
and a blessing to mankind.

5. Children should be allowed pacilities for
tal nature of children is characterized by vigorous
imitative powers and a lively fancy. This leads
them to imitate and contrive things, and gives zest
to many kinds of play in which they delight.

A slate and pencil or blackboard and chalk may
be made very useful for the purpose of preparing
children to write and draw. At first, a child might
be allowed to make such marks as his fancy prompted
or he might be encouraged to imitate simple figures
of various shapes and sizes. If any one desires to see
how much a child is interested in this kind of work,
let him draw while the child looks on, the picture
of a cat, a dog, a house, a stage-coach, and witness
the cifort he will make to imitate it. ' If a little


judicious help be given, a child will spend willingly
an hour or more every day at such exercises.

Like instruction may be derived from other em-
ployments in which children greatly delight, such
as coloring pictures or cutting them from paper or
pasteboard; moulding various kinds of objects from
terra cotta, such as animals, flowers, fruit, dishes,
boats, &c. ; building with suitable blocks, houses,
castles, bridges, &c., or making of them tables, chairs,
bedsteads, &c.; dressing dolls and arranging doll-
honses; imitating the several varieties of work
which they see going on in the kitchen, in the shop,
and on the farin ; and I recommend them all as
means of instruction which may be made very valu-
able by judicious management. Much information
can be furnished children likewise, by allowing
them to visit shops and manufactories and to see
machinery in operation.

Every father who has young sons would find it
much to their advantage to provide a shop in which
they could work, and supply it with suitable tools.
Sets of children's tools can be bought for a few
dollars, and their value in making boys more inge-
nious and active can scarcely be calculated. Girls
can derive similar benefit from needle-work, crochet-
work, and embroidery. Whatever may be their cir-
cumstances, children should learn to work. Ability
to handle tools will not prove amiss in any sphere
of life.

AVithout such instruction as that now indicated,
the productive powers of children would remain
undeveloped, and all thinking persons must acknow-
ledge that this would be a grave educational error.


II. Formal Instruction in the Elements of
Knowledge. — The preceding section has given hints
as to the kind of instruction children ought to receive
in their younger years, and as to the methods by
which it should be imparted. This informal or inci-
dental instruction must be continued as the child
advances in years and acquirements, but in addition
he must receive other instruction more formal and
systematic. He must be trained to more regular
habits of study. He must learn to work as well as
play. Knowledge should not merely be presented
to him in disconnected fragments but in regular

Thinking men accustomed to observe the mental
nature of children were long ago convinced that
the dry and tedious methods of hearing them give
the names of letters, and spell and pronounce words,
as usually practiced in Primary Schools, could not
be the best to awaken interest in study or develop
the powers of the mind. Children have a natural
appetite for knowledge, but it must be presented in
such a form as adapts it to the condition of their
mental digestive-apparatus, or it will cloy that appe-
tite instead of satisfying it.

As we have seen, a child's first intellectual lessons
are learned wholly in connection with objects.
"When older, if allowed to follow his instinctive
promptings, objects will still engage his attention
and supply the object-matter about which he thinks;
and it is obviously unwise to divert his intellectual
faculties from their natural course in obtaining
knowledge. The lessons constructed in view of
this theory are generally known by the name of


Object Lessons ; and Object Lessons may be defined
as lessons designed to teaeh the Elements of Knowledge
hy the use of objects.

It is proposed to consider :

1. The Design of Object Lessons.

2. The Matter of Object Lessons.

3. The Preparation for imparting Object


4. The Method of conducting Object Lessons.

5. The Dangers to which the Object-Lesson

System is exposed.

1. The Design of Object Lessons. — The general
design of Object Lessons is made sufficiently plain
in the definition just given, but it may be well to
state it a little more in detail.

Object Lessons supply a want in elementary in-
struction. 1^0 one can be mistaken as to the lessons
of which children are most fond. Their intense
curiosity, their active senses, their capacious memo-
ries, and their great loquacity indicate very clearly
the direction in Avhich they can be best educated.
Little is done, however, in most schools to take
advantage of these vigorous rcTanifestations of certain
mental faculties. Pupils in our Primary Schools
are made to sit down, shut themselves away from
the world of objects in which they might find so
much to interest and delight them, and engage in
the dull work of learning to read, write, and cipher
— dull, because abstract. Reading, writing, and
arithmetic must be learned, and may be learned to


some extent in the Primary School ; but neither of
these branches, nor others like them, can meet the
pressing educational wants of children. The true
philosophy of education teaches that advantage
should be taken of all mental capabilities at the
time, in the manner, and with respect to the degree,
in which they manifest themselves. This wise
mental economy is much disregarded in the common
methods of teaching; and the quick perceptive
powers of children, their strong memory, and their
lively fancy are made much less use of than they
might be in imparting knowledge, and are suffered
to remain almost altogether without systematic dis-
cipline. Children might learn much more and
learn it in a much more grateful manner, they might
receive much more mental discipline and receive it
much more in accordance with the nature of their
minds, if a well-devised system of Object Lessons
were substituted for the usual course of elementary
instruction. A child is a germ put into the hands
of the educator, and it is his duty to supply the con-
ditions necessary to its full development. No poten-
tiality of its nature should be allowed to lie dormant,
no talent should be buried, and unjust will be the
steward who violates his trust.

Object Lessons impart valuable knowledge in a
form best suited to the capacity of children. Object
Lessons teach things, facts, phenomena, words, in
short, the elements of knowledge — the foundation
upon which the whole superstructure of learning
must rest. Children have strong impulses prompt-
ing them to learn. They are constantly obtaining
knowledge without a teacher. ligature teaches


them, and they enjoy her teachings. Object Lessons
are intended to lead the child methodically in the
way nature indicates that he should be taught. At
first, they present to him things which are simple,
and afterwards those which are less easily discerned
or less easily comprehended.

A characteristic feature of the object method of
teaching is that the matter presented to the pupil
may be greatly varied. It is a common practice in
our schools to confi.ne young children to one or two
special branches of study; and of these they soon
grow weary, and consequently misspend much of
their time. A variety of objects must be presented
to children in order to enlist their attention, and
gratify their appetite for knowledge. A child may
learn lessons in the elements of all the sciences as
he walks through field or meadow. E'ature has not
separated one class of things from another, but
presents all in rich profusion. The teacher should
learn from her.

Object Lessons furnish the best discipline for the
young mind. By the ordinary methods of teaching
a child his letters, to spell, and to read, he receives
very little mental discipline. The same is true of
the process of committing to memory and repeating
forms of words which are not understood and are
soon forgotten. But let a child use his senses in
observing and noting the qualities of interesting
objects, and it will soon be perceived that his whole
intellectual nature is developing itself. One might
as well deprive a plant of light or heat, and expect
it to grow, as to endeavor to impart healthy mental
discipline to a child without the presence of objects.


The concrete should precede the abstract in the
work of education.

2. The Matter of Object Lessons. — The field
from which the objects themselves may be chosen is
as boundless as nature. It may embrace multitudes
of things in the mineral, vegetable, and animal
worlds, and multitudes of events in the history of
mankind. Writers upon Object Lessons have given
long lists of such objects, and it is quite unnecessary
to repeat them here. It is of much more impor-
tance to determine the principles which ought to
guide the teacher, not merely in the selection of
proper objects for his lessons, but in the disposition
of the matter connected with those objects with which
he would make his pupils acquainted. The princi-
ples about to be stated will be better appreciated if
the reader will keep in view the fact that Object
Lessons are designed to teach the elements of know-
ledge, and that the expression, elements of know-
ledge, is here intended to comprehend the elements
of all the sciences and arts.

The matter of Object Lessons must be adapted to
give exercise in their early growth to all the mental
faculties. In the simple perception of an object
and its discrimination from other objects, a child,
probably, calls into requisition every faculty of his
mental nature. It is a psychological error to sup-
pose that any of his mental powers are dormant.
Some manifest themselves more activety or more
obviously than others, but all act, and all should
be furnished an opportunity of gaining strength.
Teachers have been accustomed to consider Object


Lessons simpl}^ as designed to give culture to the
perceptive powers ; but this is a very narrow view
of the subject. As the perceptive powers are more
active in youth than any others of our mental facul-
ties, they are more capable of receiving culture, and
Object Lessons are peculiarly adapted to impart it;
but it should not be imparted to them to the neglect
of any other faculty of the mind. The matter of an
Object Lesson, in addition to what it contains that
can be known by the senses, may present something
to be retained in the memory, something to excite
the imagination, something to start a train of reason-
ing, or something to call into play one of those
ideas of the reason which, whether consciously or
unconsciouslv, condition all our tbinkino-. Take,
for example, such a simple object as a piece of
bread. The teacher may call the attention of his
class to the sowing of the seed, the gathering of the
harvest, the threshing of the grain, the grinding of
the flour, the baking of the bread — all of which
furnish exercise to the perceptive powers and the
memory. The imagination is exercised as well in
conceiving the ripening wheat, harvest-time, the
threshers at their work, the mill, the bakery. A
very little child can answer such questions as — "Why
is the ground ploughed and harrowed when it is
desired to sow it with wheat ? Why is the ripe
wheat gathered and put in barns ? Why is it
threshed out and taken to mills? — and thus learn to
use his judgment or learn to think. So, too, it would
be proper in giving such a lesson, for the teacher to
say that God gave us the grains of wheat ; He causes
it to grow; He ripens it and makes it fit for food;

13 ^ ■


and lie is good. Such instruction will find a lodge-
ment in children's minds, hecause it is adapted to
their mental nature, thus showing that the noblest

Online LibraryJames Pyle WickershamMethods of instruction .. → online text (page 9 of 31)