HOMELY BUT HAPPY KINDERGARTEN WAYS
Helen Joslin Le Beuf, Orange, Cal.
(Kindergarten Magazine, October 1896)
With a deep and abiding reverence for childhood I maintain ever the attitude of the student and avoid having any part of my work become stereotyped. My aim is a free, joyous, spontaneous development of each little one of my flock.
Theoretically, I enroll children between four and six years of age, but each year we have had a few six-year-old children. These are classed with the five-year-olds, though each is allowed to advance as rapidly as is practicable with his individual work. We have had each year, also, six or eight children but three years old. These necessarily make a third class; and as I have but one assistant, we have had to do some managing to provide for them. I induced some of their mothers to give us themselves for one session of each week during the autumn of the first year; then for six weeks one lovely young prospective mother gave us her time, heart, soul, mind, and strength for the sake of her own unborn.
This year these little ones have had ball-plays, garden or sand table work, walks, talks, stories, songs, and finger plays with the four-year-olds. They have, also, always accompanied the older ones in the garden. By themselves they have reveled in our spacious sand table, where they have needed no more than an occasional sympathetic visit from the kindergartner. Seated at tables in the center of the room, with one or two “helper” companions, they have told their own stories with pegs, beads, or slates and chalk, or the careful little “helper” has given them a lesson in folding, and the kindergartner has taken time to hear stories from their little books before they are taken home to mamma. With their tables adjoining those of the five-year-olds they have made chains, strung straws and papers, cut out and mounted little pictures such as are found in the “Primary Education,” or cut fringes for napkins, doll sashes, neckties, or dust brushes. Thus we extend to all three-year-old children who are intrusted to us the freedom of our kindergarten home; and, as the weeks and months go by, we know that its food and its atmosphere have been very good for them.
All children love performing. For this work I use heavy writing paper and prepare, occasional, the simplest possible pictures in broad, clear outline for the first-year children only. These are not inclined to strain their eyes over the work as the older ones with their higher ideals of perfection; there is no aiming at given point, or careful measuring of distances required. Outline pictures for sewing I also make very simple, and indicate as long stitches as possible. The children like something which they can finish in a reasonable length of time. I once made a very satisfactory set, using Philip Memberg’s boy with the sled as a guide. I simplified the outline and copied the bright, attractive face with pen and ink. For line, form, and illustrative work in drawing we use both blackboard and paper. We have plain blackboard space sufficient for an entire class, besides one section checked in two-inch squares….
Our sand table is an elegant, massive structure, measuring three by ten feet. It is handsomely finished throughout, is eight inches deep, and the bottom is supported by four iron bolts passing through the sides, which are twelve inches wide. A flat moulding two inches wide, with the edges rounded off, passes around the top and serves as a resting place for little hands or blocks, and as a check to the over-flowing of sand. In one end is a zinc basin three by three feet, and two and a half inches deep. Herein is sometimes seen “the ocean” with its sandy beaches and rocky points, while at the other end are towering mountains. Sometimes mountains are built over quantities of blocks and then “tunneled” for “coal” or “iron.”
Of the twenty by twenty-four inch coated papers I make mats and fringes. Leaving a margin of four inches I cut strips one inch and a half wide for the first mats, and one inch wide for others. A red at is woven in ones; an orange in twos, and a yellow in threes. The other colors are used in copying such original designs as receive the vote of the class. These mats are woven by groups of four, about a square table, and each, when finished, is mounted upon a sheet of tag board and placed upon the wall. They are a delight to the children, and they serve as color, form, and number charts.
Our California rainbows are wondrously bright, and it is a great joy to the children to represent them. The younger ones do this, half way around an inverted plate upon the table, with the bead cylinders; the older ones with lentils. Three children work at one bow; one each at the ends, and another from the opposite side of the table, at the middle. When the bow is completed the plate is removed. Rainbows are made upon the blackboard with colored chalk; on cards with colored pencils, and on the floor with a glass of water set in a ray admitted through a darkened window. But the chief glory is the broad bow which appears at the end of the room, never to fade so long as the school term continues. For this we use coated paper strips one inch wide, making long chains of each color. We chalk on the floor a half ring with a radius of four feet. To this we pin each link of the red chain; then just inside we carefully lay the orange chain. At intervals within the arc paste bottles are placed, while little ones with brushes arrange themselves without it, and deft fingers paste the two chains together wherever their links come in contact. The other colors are laid in turn and fastened in the same way. The next day this marvel is placed upon the wall. A scaffolding is built of tables, a half-circle drawn, three nails driven into it, and the rainbow hung thereon. Then little feet come up in turn and little fingers hand up pins until each link in the outer chain is securely fastened in place.
A happy game in this connection is the “Light Bird.” It was developed spontaneously. With the prism the spot of color is thrown upon the wall, while the children sit in a ring on the floor. In almost breathless stillness they look and listen while the kindergartners sing “Oh! Birdie Dear”; bird and song alike new to them. Then the bird takes longer flights about the room and lights upon the floor within the circle; the whole little company move toward it; the foremost touch it, when lo! it is on their hands. Again it moves, and as it flits about, resting momentarily upon little heads, faces, frocks, or feet, it is followed by the little throng, running, turning, reaching, shouting in their eager delight. Then away it “goes, up, out of reach, and rests upon the wall. The little ones, rushing after it, stop in a body, and with upturned faces and upreaching hands they form a touchingly beautiful tableau. Then down comes the bird, crosses the floor, and as the children turn to follow, it disappears. Without a word all quietly resume their places on the ring. Later, the song is learned. Then the magic glass must be examined and experimented with, and an explanation of the phenomenon is sought. This talk is illustrated by the use of a pan of water and a ruler, by means of which each child is allowed to see the visual effect of refraction; and by a good-sized blackboard drawing, in white and colors, of a ray of light passing through a prism.
When our mountains are covered with snow we make excursions to points whence we can obtain fine views of them and then we have snow talks and games. One day Lena brought in some real snow. It lasted long enough for each to examine it through sight, touch, and taste, and when melted, each drank of the water. But where did Lena get it? Lena lives near the depot. When the eastern train came through the mountains it was snowing, but not raining on this side. So the cars reached Orange roofed with snow; Lena recognized it, and induced an older sister to ask a brakeman to get some in her little pail.
The care of our garden is made a regular exercise of each week; besides this, however, much free-play time is spent therein. All of the work, except the first breaking of the soil, is done by the children. Nearly every one is provided with a real garden tool (toy tools are relegated to the sand table). The younger ones use the short-handled onion hoes and strawberry weeders; the older ones, light weight regular hoes, rakes, and spades. We have had lettuce, radishes, peas, and young onions served at our luncheons, and almost invariably the table is decorated with flowers. Frequently, too, bouquets are carried home. On Friday preceding our county teachers’ institute, the older children each took a piece of rooted verbena vine “for company” during the week. After the vacation many brought favorable reports of the pets, and one child brought blossoms from hers. Willie G. brought, for his individual garden, an onion, a turnip, and a beet. I asked if he thought that by planting those he would get onions, turnips, and beets. Yes, he did. I said: “I think not; I think if you want beets this year you must plant beet seed, and if you plant the beet you will get only seed for next year.” “Well,” he said, “I’ll plant them, anyhow, and see.” So they were planted, and they grew. After a time the turnip looked “so large and fine” that it was pulled and taken home “for dinner.” After that Willie was quite content to wait for his seed, and great was his delight when the onion blossomed. He thought he had never seen anything so pretty. Willie B. grew narcissus, and Bernice, smilax and morning-glories. The flax was the most universal favorite. Before the close of the term there was folding of seed packets and gathering of seeds.
In the center of the garden is a cement basin for the birds, the gift of John’s papa. Sometimes we all leave the circle and tip-toe to the windows to watch the birds drinking or bathing therein. We also put out bits of wool for their nests.
One block from the kindergarten there is a small, circular, unimproved plaza at the intersection of two streets.[*] I obtained permission to use this spot, had it prepared and sown with wild flower seeds. The children assisted at the sowing by their songs and grateful enthusiasm.
We have a handsome flag measuring three by six feet. When it came I was asked, “May we have a flag party, and bring flowers, and decorate?” Soon Mr. B. called and volunteered to furnish the building with a pole for the flag. The next morning baskets and armfuls of flowers were brought, and class time was spent by the children in “decorating” to their hearts’ content. I fastened the flag to a staff and draped it on the wall. The next day my little company appeared with two drums, a harmonica, and three new trumpets! We arranged ourselves in marching order, selecting the tallest three as a relay of flag bearers, and marched around a block and through the plaza.
A few days later we received a number of invited guests and carried out a program which included flag songs, a formal presentation by the trustees, and the raising of the flag by the children. Each little hand grasped the cord, and when its folds were floated out upon the breeze the child voices sang “Our flag is there,” and gave the flag salute. Then the entire company sang “America,” and all joined in a hurrah “loud enough to be heard at Santa Ana.” A lady said she was glad their teacher had taught them how to hurrah; she thought few American children knew how, and the fact was to be deplored. A gentleman, in a short address on child patriotism, paid pretty tribute to both children and teachers. Since that day the salute has been given out of doors at recess.
We occasionally have “a concert,” the entire program being voluntary at the moment. A “platform” is a necessity, and is built of tables. The parts are generally solos, though sometimes two, and occasionally five or six will sing together. Sometimes the selection is a recitation. Winsome little Sydine once held her audience spellbound throughout a long recitation by her own interest, as manifested in unconscious gesture and facial expression, and was warmly applauded, although not one word had been heard because of her timidity. This spontaneous applause has bubbled forth many times with very pretty effect, for it is always an expression of genuine appreciation. These concerts are just among ourselves, but I never drill the children, even for special occasions. I lead up to the day so gradually that when it comes the material is all ready. I think I never write out my program more than two days before. Our last Froebel birthday program was selected and arranged by the children themselves, only two days previous, and it was beautiful.
I hardly know how to tell you, or him, what Mr. Tomlins’ “Child’s Garden of Song” has been to us. When our copy came, all of the children, in relays of four, carefully looked it through with their teacher. Then I gave them a brief sketch of Mr. Tomlins’ work, and told them that he had come into the world to stand beside Froebel; but while Froebel helped little children the most through, work and play, Mr. Tomlins would help them the most through song. They wished me to thank him for the beautiful book, and Osman added: “And, Miss Ricketts, for the pictures.” I brought the book home to study, and on taking it back after four days, it was greeted with a joyous round of hands’ clapping. The day before we had had a glorious rainbow with a bright and complete reflection; so that day we learned the “Rainbow Fairies.” (We have to sing one “winter” day, for we have no rain in summer.) At the close little Grace said: “And that made a rainbow.” Of the “Birdie’s Valentine” Herbert said: “When you sing that last slow, soft part, I feel it ‘way down here,” indicating from his throat to his waist.
The greater number of our games are developed from original dramatizing of our talks, stories, and songs; our observations of nature, and our visits to workshops. These are all further illustrated in the drawing and other occupations; in the sand table; with the gifts, and by pictures. Columbus has sailed under a real Spanish flag and brought red men back to his queen. The story of Lincoln has been the foundation for four different games. “Hasten to the meadow, Peter,” has made a fascinating game. Also a bird family learning to fly and to scratch for food; “Birdies’ Ball,” and very many more.
Many of the pictures are brought by the children. When numerous they are arranged on the screens. Our twelve Nicolletti casts all hang within four feet of the floor, and frequently a group of little ones is seen drinking in the beauty of these tine reproductions of masterpieces. One of Mrs. Bethmann’s large, colored reproductions of Froebel’s “Family” picture occupies one panel of a screen; and a large copy of the Bodenhausen Madonna another. Beneath the rainbow is a rural scene. Last spring I was able to collect eight copies of the book, and we had a series of “Mother-Play” picture parties. This experience increased my hunger for very large copies of them all.
Two or three times a year the older children have a class time devoted to entirely individual work of their own choosing. Each first decides what he will do; then, in so far as possible, helps himself to the material he needs, and asks for what he cannot get. Each is responsible for the order of the cupboard, and for the return of apparatus to its place. This is excellent discipline; the sense of independence and responsibility increases self-respect. Occasionally a stranger visitor will so win the hearts as to be remembered at such a time, or at Christmas, or on Valentine’s day; and sometimes appreciative notes of acknowledgment are received, which are shared with the class. Presents, too, are sometimes exchanged between the little mates within our home. When any child is obliged to leave us, she is apt to be followed by a budget of “valentines.” Once we received a letter from little Rozella, at school in Nebraska, who was with us the previous year. This was answered by a message from each one of the class.
At the close of each summer I have invited the graduated class to my home to meet the primary teacher. This has been a great help to them. This year I shall include former classes, as I hope to keep the alumni together throughout the years. The class of ‘94 left with the kindergarten a Washington banner of their own making; the class of ‘95, a Froebel birthday picture, and the class of ‘96, a large portrait of Froebel framed in paper foldings of three tones of yellow.
I always treat the children with consideration and respect, and never fail to introduce them under any circumstances where an adult would be introduced. This, 1 think, is one of the happiest of my homely ways. It stimulates self-respect, induces a feeling of cordiality through awakening a sense of responsibility for the welfare of the stranger, and tends to the development of that unconscious grace which is the accompaniment of being at ease in society.
[* This was not the famed downtown Plaza in Orange, but a smaller circular park at the intersection of Orange and Washington streets, now long gone.]