The technique of my method as it follows the guidance of the natural physiological and psychical development of the child, may be divided into three parts:
The care and management of the environment itself afford the principal means of motor education, while sensory education and the education of language are provided for by my didactic material.
The didactic material for the education of the senses consists of:
Didactic Material for the Preparation for Writing and Arithmetic
The education of the movements is very complex, as it must correspond to all the coordinated movements which the child has to establish in his physiological organism. The child, if left without guidance, is disorderly in his movements, and these disorderly movements are the special characteristic of the little child. In fact, he "never keeps still,” and "touches everything.” This is what forms the child’s so-called "unruliness” and "naughtiness.”
The adult would deal with him by checking these movements, with the monotonous and useless repetition "keep still.” As a matter of fact, in these movements the little one is seeking the very exercise which will organize and coordinate the movements useful to man. We must, therefore, desist from the useless attempt to reduce the child to a state of immobility. We should rather give "order” to his movements, leading them to those actions towards which his efforts are actually tending. This is the aim of muscular education at this age. Once a direction is given to them, the child’s movements are made towards a definite end, so that he himself grows quiet and contented, and becomes an active worker, a being calm and full of joy. This education of the movements is one of the principal factors in producing that outward appearance of "discipline” to be found in the "Children’s Houses.” I have already spoken at length on this subject in my other books.
Muscular education has reference to:
Fig. 23.––Frame to hold Geometrical Insets.
This frame is used for the preparation of the first presentation to the child of the plane geometrical forms.
The teacher may select according to her own judgment certain forms from among the whole series at her disposal.
At first it is advisable to show the child only a few figures which differ very widely from one another in form. The next step is to present a larger number of figures, and after this to present consecutively figures more and more similar in form.
The first figures to be arranged in the frame will be, for example, the circle and the equilateral triangle, or the circle, the triangle and the square. The spaces which are left should be covered with the tablets of plain wood. Gradually the frame is completely filled with figures; first, with very dissimilar figures, as, for example, a square, a very narrow rectangle, a triangle, a circle, an ellipse and a hexagon, or with other figures in combination.
Afterwards the teacher’s object will be to arrange figures similar to one another in the frame, as, for example, the set of six rectangles, six triangles, six circles, varying in size, etc.
This exercise resembles that of the cylinders. The insets are held by the buttons and taken from their places. They are then mixed on the table and the child is invited to put them back in their places. Here also the control of the error is in the material, for the figure cannot be inserted perfectly except when it is put in its own place. Hence a series of "experiments,” of "attempts” which end in victory. The child is led to compare the various forms; to realize in a concrete way the differences between them when an inset wrongly placed will not go into the aperture. In this way he educates his eye to the recognition of forms.
The new movement of the hand which the child must coordinate is of particular importance. He is taught to touch the outline of the geometrical figures with the soft tips of the index and middle finger of the right hand, or of the left as well, if one believes in ambidexterity. (Fig. 24.) The child is made to touch the outline, not only of the inset, but also of the corresponding aperture, and, only after having touched them, is he to put back the inset into its place.
The recognition of the form is rendered much easier in this way. Children who evidently do not recognize the identities of form by the eye and who make absurd attempts to place the most diverse figures one within the other, do recognize the forms after having touched their outlines, and arrange them very quickly in their right places.
The child’s hand during this exercise of touching the outlines of the geometrical figures has a concrete guide in the object. This is especially true when he touches the frames, for his two fingers have only to follow the edge of the frame, which acts as an obstacle and is a very clear guide. The teacher must always intervene at the start to teach accurately this movement, which will have such an importance in the future. She must, therefore, show the child how to touch, not only by performing the movement herself slowly and clearly, but also by guiding the child’s hand itself during his first attempts, so that he is sure to touch all the details––angles and sides. When his hand has learned to perform these movements with precision and accuracy, he will be really capable of following the outline of a geometrical figure, and through many repetitions of the exercise he will come to coordinate the movement necessary for the exact delineation of its form.
This exercise could be called an indirect but very real preparation for drawing. It is certainly the preparation of the hand to trace an enclosed form. The little hand which touches, feels, and knows how to follow a determined outline is preparing itself, without knowing it, for writing.
The children make a special point of touching the outlines of the plane insets with accuracy. They themselves have invented the exercise of blindfolding their eyes so as to recognize the forms by touch only, taking out and putting back the insets without seeing them.
Corresponding to every form reproduced in the plane insets there are three white cards square in shape and of exactly the same size as the wooden frames of the insets. These cards are kept in three special cardboard boxes, almost cubic in form. (Fig. 25.)
On the cards are repeated, in three series, the same geometrical forms as those of the plane insets. The same measurements of the figures also are exactly reproduced.
In the first series the forms are filled in, i.e., they are cut out in blue paper and gummed on to the card; in the second series there is only an outline about half a centimeter in width, which is cut out in the same blue paper and gummed to the card; in the third series, however, the geometrical figures are instead outlined only in black ink.
By the use of this second piece of the material, the exercise of the eye is gradually brought to perfection in the recognition of "plane forms.” In fact, there is no longer the concrete control of error in the material as there was in the wooden insets, but the child, by his eye alone, must judge of identities of form when, instead of fitting the wooden forms into their corresponding apertures, he simply rests them on the cardboard figure.
Again, the refinement of the eye’s power of discrimination increases every time the child passes from one series of cards to the next, and by the time that he has reached the third series, he can see the relation between a wooden object, which he holds in his hand, and an outline drawing; that is, he can connect the concrete reality with an abstraction. The line now assumes in his eyes a very definite meaning; and he accustoms himself to recognize, to interpret and to judge of forms contained by a simple outline.
The exercises are various; the children themselves invent them. Some love to spread out a number of the figures of the geometric insets before their eyes, and then, taking a handful of the cards and mixing them like playing cards, deal them out as quickly as possible, choosing the figures corresponding to the pieces. Then as a test of their choice, they place the wooden pieces upon the forms on the cards. At this exercise they often cover whole tables, putting the wooden figures above, and beneath each one in a vertical line, the three corresponding forms of the cardboard series.
LANGUAGE AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD
The special importance of the sense of hearing comes from the fact that it is the sense organ connected with speech. Therefore, to train the child’s attention to follow sounds and noises which are produced in the environment, to recognize them and to discriminate between them, is to prepare his attention to follow more accurately the sounds of articulate language. The teacher must be careful to pronounce clearly and completely the sounds of the word when she speaks to a child, even though she may be speaking in a low voice, almost as if telling him a secret. The children’s songs are also a good means for obtaining exact pronunciation. The teacher, when she teaches them, pronounces slowly, separating the component sounds of the word pronounced.
But a special opportunity for training in clear and exact speech occurs when the lessons are given in the nomenclature relating to the sensory exercises. In every exercise, when the child has recognized the differences between the qualities of the objects, the teacher fixes the idea of this quality with a word. Thus, when the child has many times built and rebuilt the tower of the pink cubes, at an opportune moment the teacher draws near him, and taking the two extreme cubes, the largest and the smallest, and showing them to him, says, "This is large”; "This is small.” The two words only, large and small, are pronounced several times in succession with strong emphasis and with a very clear pronunciation, "This is large, large, large”; after which there is a moment’s pause. Then the teacher, to see if the child has understood, verifies with the following tests: "Give me the large one. Give me the small one.” Again, "The large one.” "Now the small one.” "Give me the large one.” Then there is another pause. Finally, the teacher, pointing to the objects in turn asks, "What is this?” The child, if he has learned, replies rightly, "Large,” "Small.” The teacher then urges the child to repeat the words always more clearly and as accurately as possible. "What is it?” "Large.” "What?” "Large.” "Tell me nicely, what is it?” "Large.”
Large and small objects are those which differ only in size and not in form; that is, all three dimensions change more or less proportionally. We should say that a house is "large” and a hut is "small.” When two pictures represent the same objects in different dimensions one can be said to be an enlargement of the other.
When, however, only the dimensions referring to the section of the object change, while the length remains the same, the objects are respectively "thick” and "thin.” We should say of two posts of equal height, but different cross-section, that one is "thick” and the other is "thin.” The teacher, therefore, gives a lesson on the brown prisms similar to that with the cubes in the three "periods” which I have described:
Period 1. Naming. "This is thick. This is thin.”
Period 2. Recognition. "Give me the thick. Give me the thin.”
Period 3. The Pronunciation of the Word. "What is this?”
The success of these results is closely connected with the delicate intervention of the one who guides the children in their development. It is necessary for the teacher to guide the child without letting him feel her presence too much, so that she may be always ready to supply the desired help, but may never be the obstacle between the child and his experience.
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